Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goat Mountain by David Vann

Goat Mountain by David Vann is stunning. “This has was the first time I’d be allowed to kill. Illegal still in age, but old enough finally by family law.” Now aren’t we off to a good start. Killing is in man’s nature stresses the narrator, years after a life-altering event. A poacher, a powerful rifle, an eleven year old.
Four men go hunting, the boy, his father, his grandfather, and his father’s best friend, Tom. With the poacher strung up and bagged like a dead deer, the three men go at. The grandfather thinks they should kill the boy. Tom wants to go to the sheriff. The father will blame it all on Tom or just wants to bury the body. There is in fighting, as one would imagine. The boy is the narrator, so we have to wonder what comes of his first kill. Lots of Biblical references to killing and finding God. More Old Testament than New Testament.
Everything has changed as they slowly lose themselves in the woods and the burlapped body spins in the wind as a reminder of the deadly deed. Some say the eating of the dead animal’s liver and heart make a man of a boy. Perhaps. So what makes that man moral and good? This is a violent family wrestling with God.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Rustication by Charles Palliser

When I saw this title Rustication by Charles Palliser, I couldn’t help think about Neil Young. Different reference, but so what. This novel starts out in such despair; I couldn’t put it down. A baby thrown into a fire? We are in England in December of 1863 to January 1864. A journal, horrid letters, demented people, and a ball dominate the action of these two months. Oh and don’t forget the sins of the father. Opium and Laudanum in this story too.
Now on the brighter side, Richard has not been asked back to Cambridge, his father died and he wasn’t told about it, the widow and his sister have moved from their comfortable digs to a remote mansion in the middle of nowhere and in the marshland. In addition they are broke and the house they are in now may not be theirs and they will have to vacate it within the year. With each page it gets worse. Then his mother asks him to leave.  He has no money, no home, no future.
Things have changed and Richard is staying. He has secrets, his sister has secrets and there is someone harming animals and writing disgusting almost illiterate letters to people. A most strange society. Money, marriages, bastards, greed, and lies make this a most entertaining tale with a grand ending.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Mr. Lynch’s Holiday by Catherine O’Flynn

Mr. Lynch’s Holiday by Catherine O’Flynn has a King Lear feel about it. Dermot, the dad from England, drops in on his son, Eamonn, who lives in Spain. Dad is retired. Dermot has another story, wife after eight years left, car battery is dead, and he lives in a town of expat Brit retirees, and still owes lots of money on his house. Oh the weight.
This is about the father and the son. In one exchange they discover they both agreed about the same event. Eamonn complained that his father didn’t want to see a holiday show in which his son performed. The father replied that he sat through the whole show and had to search for his son, who lurked in the back. His son replied that he didn’t want to be in the show. He continued that he was sorry his mother dragged his father to the show. The father admitted that it was he who dragged his mother to the show. Why is it that fathers and sons take so long to straighten things out?
Perhaps one of the most fundamental questions in our western Christian life is asked by the son, “Why does Jesus have to die? Why didn’t God die?” Damn good question. What father that you know wouldn’t die for his son? What father wants to bury his son? This is one of those A-Ha moments. It is a story of how a father and son get to know each other, finally. They even learn something about themselves after their women have left them. Better communications, that’s what life is about, then you get fired. A poignant moment when father and son are talking about dead mother, father says, “I’ve been less lonely since she’s gone.”
Lots going on in this book, a great read.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton is stellar and the 2013 Man Booker winner. Everyone has a story and Catton regales us with lots of stories woven into a magical novel.  Walter Moody arrived in New Zealand in January 1866 on a barque, The Godspeed, that began with eight passengers arrived with nine and has further secrets aboard. He stayed in a hotel with twelve men who were meeting but didn’t want anyone to know. Moody was there to get rich in the goldmines. Catton sets the table beautifully as she divulges so much in so little time.
After reading the first chapter, I’m discovering that I am revisiting Thomas Hardy and George Eliot; a simple, innocent lie compounded is how it starts and undulates for hundreds of pages. The joy begins with the creation of Ted, the filling of the pipe and lighting it, the dialogue, opium pipes, gold, and whores make for fabulous reading. The book is addictive as I am charmed by the prose and the flow of the plot. The narrator controls the action, fills in blanks, and otherwise provides us with what we need to know when the narrator deems fit. Long stories abound. No long stories told short, no no no. In fact we hear the same story told from different perspectives. We know more than most characters, but not more than the omniscient narrator. “But our point has already been made; we ought to return to the scene at hand.” Follow Carver, but that’s obvious.
Ghosts? Sort of. More like heavenly bodies. Hint: Chapter titles have a zodiac spin. The narrator uses astrology as credible evidence. From one of the characters to another: “I have heard that in the New Zealand native tradition, the soul, when it dies, becomes a star.” A luminary. All energy is devoted for the séance being performed by the dead man’s widow. Surprises take over and in a novel like this, they are expected and cherished. The Chinese connection is a grand surprise. The letters of Crosbie Wells are brilliant. When twelve men plus one make an oath, how soon is that oath broken and how many times?
It will take a trial of the whore and her beau to flesh out the truth, whatever that may be. Which would you choose, Honesty or Loyalty? Once we step back into time this becomes the question, which affects the future.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Necromancer’s House by Christopher Buehlman

The Necromancer’s House by Christopher Buehlman is filled with words, spells, and magic. The words are words people don’t like. She doesn’t like the word lesbian, though she is one who spent time in jail for her choices. He doesn’t like the word wizard, maybe because he is one. We are on a lake in upstate New York, close to Oswego. They met at an AA meeting and became lovers, sort of, but definitely friends who like to play pool. Did I mention the luminaries? The artificial light kind. Catton’s next.
Dreams and reality mix, not even separated by being awake or asleep. In a world of magic, wizards, those of different luminary status, we are seldom aware of reality and not, unless Buehlman wants us to know. It’s not safe to follow someone into the woods. It is amazing how cruel cruel witches can be.  The battles, the war produces a lovely coven.
Before I dive into The Luminaries, I must pick up Jim Wilson from the airport.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Others of my Kind by James Sallis

Others of my Kind by James Sallis may be a short novel it is loaded with great allusions, Stephen Dedalus, Hester Prynne, and many more as well as witty clever sentences and use of language. It is a joyous adventure about a woman who lived in a box under a guy’s bed, in a Mall, and somehow got an education good enough to be an editor of a newspaper. One needs to suspend disbelief. Lots of dysfunction too. The whole story hinges on the magic eight ball, you know the icosahedron.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson

Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson is about a young girl, Marina, coming of age in a house of women, a grandma, great aunts, and a mother, Laura. Because Marina wants to go to Cambridge, she is sent to a coed boarding school for her last year. The family sacrifices everything for her. Mother and daughter are obsessed about sex. Hungarian women are a handful, Marina’s boyfriend Guy is warned by his father.
Marina’s family roots are Hungarian. She is foreign. She is in an English boarding school preparing for Cambridge. She is not interested in her past, only her future. She and her mom are two confused women about their men, their lives, and themselves. As it turns out, Guy’s dad is the son of a man who stole from Marina’s grandparents. Her dad has returned from “being dead.” He has cancer. Her mom might be pregnant. It is all very complicated and ends just at the right place for a sequel.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Hit by Richard House

The Hit by Richard House is the fourth book of four in The Kills.  This quartet is a Tarantinoesque thousand-page tome.  It has been a maze to wander, stories to follow, plot twist upon plot twist. This book begins with the first Sutler, all three of them. We are regaled with lessons and a story about a man who kills a dog with his bare hands after the dog has killed another dog or was it a cat or a rat? Then the killer dog approaches a boy outside a church or was it a mosque? A story, that’s when all the trouble starts.  
The trouble began with some murders. Then there was the book about said murders. Author ran into trouble. Then there was a movie. Now when people speak about the murders they don’t know if they mean the book or the movie. Isn’t that always the case. Many of my students wrote book reports about the movie.
So where does all of this start? We don’t even know how it ends.
There is a webpage.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Kill by Richard House

The Kill by Richard House is the third book of four in The Kills.  We have a novel within a novel. The Novel being written is The Kill and the surrounding novel is The Kill. Finn is the author writing about three killings in Naples. He explores their connections to each other and researches these heinous crimes much like the method used by Truman Capote in his In Cold Blood. An American student is murdered, a murderer is murdered and a prostitute is murdered. How these three murders connect is the story of the first part of the novel. In the second part Finn unravels the sequence and details as best he can. The five pointed start within a circle seems to be the main link. Follow this symbol.
The action takes place over three years. In the third year a movie is made and one wonders if the killings ever happened.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Massive by Richard House

The Massive by Richard House is the second book of four in The Kills begins with seven funerals of men who served at Camp Liberty. We are looking back on the lives of these men and how they intersected in life and followed one another in death. I was curious as to why students in the first school in which I taught, a private New England boarding school grades five to nine were there. I mean who sends a kid away to boarding school in fifth grade? To my surprise the reasons are many. One was very intriguing. A group of ten kids some related but all were friends and the children of five pair of parents who went to do contract work in Saudi Arabia. They didn’t want to take their children for the two-year gig. Each pair was to earn a million dollars. That’s the story of this book. Men are contracted to work in Iraq or that area for a fixed time and fixed amount of money. No guarantees. Money was good and would solve financial problems at home. Off to Camp Liberty with a hand picked group of seven men to man the burn pits. “’What happened to the last guy? The one for the Middle East?’ Santo asked in a voice that was not so quiet. ‘You think they ate him?’ The Men looked back and considered the possibility.” We are traveling back in time to where it all started, Camp Liberty. A story, there’s always a story, stolen dogs, Sparts, putting the f in freedom, secrets, a baby, Nut, deceit, lies, the whole lot.
Burning pits leave quite the stink.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sutler by Richard House

Sutler by Richard House is the first book of four in The Kills.  Sutler is a temporary name so Ford, if that is his name can get away. The story takes place in worn torn Mideast and the crossing of borders. Turkey is where Ford eventually falls. Everyone is chasing him. They think he has the money. Ford becomes Michael and Tom and gets entangled with a trio of filmmakers in Turkey. No one trusts anyone. Sutlers were army followers, the civilian quartermaster. Who is Sutler? Misdirection at every new chapter. Follow Eric. Who is who and what is what? This is a saga to be continued into The Massive.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years Ago

I was running around the football field on a very grey, wet fall day at Williston Academy. I was fourteen and in my first year as an eighth grader at this New England Prep School. News came that the president had been shot. I went back to my dorm to watch the coverage on the television in my dorm master's room. It was the first time I saw a man cry when it was announced that the president was dead. That was the beginning of the chaos that would be followed by more assassinations, burning cities, and a war that changed America. Five years later I graduated from Williston on June 6, 1968. The night before we were watching RFK speak about his recent victories in California and North Dakota. Then he was shot. The assassinations of JFK & RFK book ended my years at Williston. These two days compete for importance with the two days the World Trade Towers were attacked. My two children were in a school two blocks north of these bold attacks and were personal.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Curiosity by Philip Ball

Curiosity, How Science Became Interested in Everything by Philip Ball is a great follow-up to The Curiosity, the novel by Kiernan. In the novel Jeremiah Rice, a man was the curiosity. And a good chaser for The Swerve. In this non-fiction, curiosity is the quality in man that makes him interesting. More than interesting, but that is a good place to start. I always used curiosity as a tool in my classroom. Encouraging curiosity was one of my traits and when the web came along for us to make our own webpages and help make Alexander Pope’s nightmare become real, “the printing press will foster more authors.” All of my scholars became authors and it was their curiosity that inspired their web designs and constructions as well as inform the content of those pages. Ball is preaching to the choir about curiosity as the source of knowledge and power. In the end it was power I was generating in my classrooms, acquiring power is what education is all about, IMHO. It all starts with the curious. I would be remiss if I didn’t go to the obvious two allusions, I always associate with being curious and they are Alice’s constant use of it in her rabbit hole adventures and the two movies of my youth, I am Curious Yellow and I am Curious Blue.
Curiosity has a strange and curious history. Curiosity killed the cat, which had nine lives. The Romans weren’t curious since they accepted that the Greeks discovered everything and there were no new things, hence no curiosity, only wonder. This held true through the Dark Ages until the late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century.  To be curious was to be sinful and proud, not Christians traits. Curiosity was yet another bad trait the church needed to squelch to maintain its power. Curiosity was a way to gain power and in the seventeenth century power and knowledge become more universal with the printing press, humanism, and Protestantism flourishing. Learning by doing is becoming the mantra after having information pumped in.
Curiosity is a derivative of the Greek meaning to care. Curiosity began its place through the magic arts and then to the curios box filled with curious items that helped people explore their curiosity. That was the beginning of satiating one’s curiosity, collect stuff and store them in boxes, then books, then digits. Pan comes to mind. Humanism. Running into a lot of old friends and titles. Curiosity was running amok throughout Europe and germinating its seeds throughout Europe. That it was breaking out so rampantly, the old controlling way just disappeared in a generation. Wonder becomes curiosity and we are off to the modern world. Collecting data, storing it, math and science, math and science, then the telescope and they go to the moon and beyond. There are explosions of genius all over the map. Then comes the microscope and we go in a whole new direction. The cell reemerges as the key to it all.
We take curiosity for granted, but in the seventeenth century curiosity was new and separating it from God was very difficult and still is sometimes in some circles.  Oh and always be a keeper of secrets.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan

The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan
What if man from past walks around a city and goes to baseball games and moves in with a woman?
Hello Jeremiah Rice. He’s the frozen man and he is alive again. Now it gets dicey, ethics and all that. The judge, that was what Jeremiah was before, commented on his new surroundings with great clarity. Everyone is curious.
Four person narrative: Kate Philo, Daniel Dixon, Erastus Carthage, and Jeremiah Rice. Ownership, access, freedom are played with in this novel. It is an ethical nightmare. Frankenstein is an obvious reference, but so is Flowers for Algernon. Crowd mentality is a strong force. Let’s just say The Curiosity is a curious novel.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan

The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan is a delightful romp told from three points of view. It is fast paced, verbally acute, and wonderfully humorous, if not darn right eccentric. Our narrators are Kate Philo, Daniel Dixon, and Erastus Carthage. Kate is a mindful, dedicated distraction, a scientist, to the men around her. Of course she is more competent then many of them. Daniel is a reporter and is distracted by Kate. Erastus is the project manager, the boss, the money. It is all about the project. The project is about reviving frozen specimens found in arctic ice. These life forms have been frozen for many many years. The idea is about cryogenics. Then they find a man, Frank, short for Frankenstein, and the Lazarus Project begins. Here is where it gets curious. There is a curiosity about actually reanimating a human, “dead” for how long, and to revive him for how long? There is a curiosity about the ethics of doing this. “But aren’t you curious to see if it works,” asks the boss.
Hello Jeremiah Rice.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Crime Fraîche by Alexander Campion

Crime Fraîche by Alexander Campion is the second Capucine Culinary Mystery. I’ve read them all out of order. I couldn’t help myself and wait, they are so delicious. Capucine and her food critic husband, Alexandre, have been invited to her uncle’s chateau in Normandy country. The town was supported by one of the country’s best Charolais beef ranches. In addition to eating great beef, Alexandre was able to forage for mushrooms, and they enjoyed the country hunts of partridge and deer. Problems began, as men were “accidently” shot at a partridge hunt, a protest, and at a deer hunt. All suspicious since all the men killed were associated with the Charolais beef company. Capucine gets involved at her uncle’s request.
Things get very murky indeed as ambiguity rules. What is real and what is fake? Deception on so many levels and in more than one place keep us confused and wanting throughout. Pureness of food, a marriage, and love get confounded and finally untangled as justice prevails or does it? This is the most complex of the Campion books.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver is about a BIG brother. The conversation at the airport of two passengers forewarns us. A big man has sat in the middle seat and taken half of each on either side of him and he smells. As Pandora, collects her big brother, Edison, from the Cedar Rapids airport after his flight from Detroit, she is shocked to see him in a wheelchair. Last time she saw Edison, four years ago,  he weighed 165 pounds. Now he weighed 368 pounds. He was coming to Iowa, cause he has nowhere else to go. Pandora, childless, is the stepmom to two teenagers, Tanner, seventeen, and Cody. Their father, Fletcher, makes furniture and helps Pandora in the kitchen, which was a selling point for her. Now Edison, the BIG brother is coming to visit. The family goes through denial, loss, pity, anger and other emotions as they spend the next two months under the same roof.
Pandora and Edison’s dad, Travis, was the star of a television program called Joint Custody. It helped as a metaphor for Pandora to explain the relationship of parents to their children and the relationship of siblings. Sibling relationship was the strongest one out there. It was this sibling relationship that allowed her to finally discuss weight with Edison. He got fat because he didn’t give a shit. He didn’t realize this selfishness of his had a negative effect on those around him, like her husband Fletcher and the two kids. Don’t go food shopping with Edison and don’t let him cook breakfast. This slowly becomes a very agonizing story. Edison insults people, breaks furniture by sitting on it, pigs out when everyone is at work or school, and does nothing about his weight or his imposition on others. His sister is an enabler. She restocks the emptied refrigerator, she cleans up after him, and she forsakes her family for her brother. His visit turns into two months before his European Jazz Tour, which actually doesn’t exist and he has no place to return to in NYC. When we discover they are stuck with the “blob” that has no self-respect for him and little for others, we wonder about his sister who is trying to help Edison and save her marriage at the same time. It has to be hard since Fletcher is a health freak and a bike rider while Edison is just a fat slob. During family conversations Edison downplays the ideas of college for Tanner, undermines the parents constantly, and continues to divide the family he has moved in with. His size has thrown life out of balance in this house.
This is powerful story of obesity and its effect on family. Pandora has enraged everyone with her protecting and enabling Edison. She asks what is she to do?  Simple answer is the same thing any family would do who had a family member with a drinking or drug problem. Intervene. Being the protective sister made things worse, not better. The second half of the book is a guide to assisting another in weight loss, tough love. We are torn about the fat man. We understand the prejudice against obesity and we sympathize. However, as we learn more we see a selfish, overindulgent, pain in the ass who only himself to blame, not genes or environment or whatever for his obese state. Edison is not a nice or likeable person thin or fat, that’s a problem and then he gets fat. His best asset is his sister and her best asset is Oliver. The success story of the diet is just to unbelievable as we learn. Edison is detestable, difficult to like. The moral of the story is we are not our brother’s keeper.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood

The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood is as we would expect a foodie book, a book about cooking and eating. There’s also a story that begins with Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumont eating black dung beetles and living in a stable when he is found by the Regent and taken to a school where he will meet his best friend Emile Duras. It is 1723. They met and become best friends as all young boys do, by fighting. Emile hits Jean-Marie, Jean-Marie hits back and well that’s how best friends are made. My best friends when I was young, before I shaved were those I fought with. I guess it is a ritual, a savage one where we have to spill blood to be worthy of friendship.
Jean-Marie likes to eat and is a cook. He has recipes for grilled, mice, cat, dog, pickled wolf’s heart and more. He knows his spices. But when he is introduced to the finer foods, he is amazed and inspired. This is another story that takes place in France, albeit the early 1700’s, and food is an integral part of the plot as Jean-Marie always scrutinizes his food, goes into kitchens to ask questions of tastes and ingredients, and provides recipes of his dishes that always include hunted game or roadkill. He is a noble, but his parents were poor and are dead. He is a ward of the state and sent to a school to be refined. He meets a girl, Jeanne-Marie, and a Jew, Duras, and is thoroughly corrupted according to local mores. He listens and that is good for his education.
This is a kind of Tom Jones story. He summer adventures with classmate Charlot, a military school classmate whose father is a powerful Duke and his family, mother and three younger sisters. Jean-Marie falls for the middle sister, Virginie. He saves her life two times and they are allowed to get married. The rest of his life is a recipe for a good story about a noble in aristocratic France who gets involved with Corsica, Ben Franklin and the French Revolution. Also he is the Commissioner of the Menagerie and keeps animals exiled from Versailles. His closet companion, Tigris, a blind tiger.
The fun of this book are the recipes and Jean Marie’s interest in cooking.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt

I first read The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt when it came out. I must revisit it and reacquaint myself with that old book hunter, Poggio Bracciolini. Greenblatt begins with his own book hunting adventure that happened one summer while he was at Yale. He discovered a copy of Lucretius’ classical two thousand year old poem On the Nature of Things for ten cents. The power of the book was its take on the place of the atom in our lives. The importance of this book on thinkers throughout the ages is the subject of this book. I am reminded of the time when I was eighteen years old and discovered Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida in the USO library in Qui Nhon, Vietnam where I was a soldier. For me that play was to be the subject of many papers in college and eventually further study in Stratford-upon Avon. Lucretius’ point that the atom was the center of the universe was blasphemy in his day and even in the days in which it was rediscovered a thousand years later and then by Greenblatt when its contents make sense. The same can be said of my discovery of Troilus and Cressida while I’m at war far from my home written by Shakespeare who borrowed it from Chaucer who borrowed it from Homer.  How is it that ancient authors still have power two thousand or more years later? We all have a book that changed our lives. What is yours?
Greenblatt contends that this book is a part of what he calls the swerve, that event that shapes the future, a moment when things change so as to cause a major change in thinking, such as a time we call the Renaissance, that time after so many years in darkness, we all at once see so many great minds collaborating at the same time that leads to our modern days? The copying of this book, its distribution, and its place in so many lives and deaths is that swerve of which Greenblatt speaks.
Poggio Bracciolini is a book hunter. He was the former apostolic secretary to Cardinal Baldassare Cossa who called himself pope John XXIII. Cossa became an antipope and was imprisoned in 1415 and Poggio was released from duty. He then spent the rest of his life searching out ancient texts particularly Roman texts scribed in Latin. Book hunters such as Poggio and Plutarch, earlier were in search of the humanities, thus “The Humanists” were born. The place for a fifteenth century book hunter to search for ancient texts was in the old monasteries of Europe. Monks were required to read and in turn acquire books by making copies of other people’s books. This practice was forced on the monks in the sixth and seventh centuries because of the politics and wars and destruction of any educational system. The only literate people were the monks. These old monasteries were Poggio’s hunting grounds.
Who Lucretius, the poet, was isn’t exactly clear. Cicero praised the poet for his insight, genius, and beauty of language. In fact he was held in high regard by contemporary authors. On the Nature of Things is the only reference, which makes him a one hit wonder like our own JD Salinger and John Kennedy Toole. He survives for Poggio to find because of discoveries made in Herculaneum, a city when Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. This was a time between the gods and the savior. Man ruled and his intellect was his tool. Greenblatt weaves history and conjecture together wonderfully, sort of how the gene was replicated in Jurassic Park, the movie. Recovering these ancient scrolls has been nearly a two hundred and fifty year project. I can only imagine with huge regret how much was lost in trial and error methods to recover these papyrus scrolls. We have so little of the ancients in actual artifacts. What we do have is how authors allude to and mention other authors and their work. This was a renaissance praised by the later humanists, Plutarch and Bracciolini. The reason for so little has to do with religion and how religious sects blossomed and destroyed what came before. The great libraries of the world are evidence enough. The great divide comes over pleasure in conflict with pain. Epicurus and Jesus are opposed. The Christians promote pain through whippings and suffering to emulate Jesus. There are no references to Jesus ever being happy, laughing, telling a joke. It is all weeping and sadness. Lucretius is an Epicurean and we are lucky some monk in some monastery made copies of his poem On the Nature of Things for Poggio to find in 1417. 
The education of Poggio is fascinating. A humble beginning outside Florence did not deter him from being part of the establishment of Humanism and of clear handwriting. Handwriting was to be his ticket to Rome and to history. He set off to Rome at the age of twenty-three and had already made his mark as a writer who precedes Montaigne, a secular scholar to rival Petrarch, and a mover and shaker in intellectual curiosity. His drive and curiosity is crucial in later developments for man.
He writes, “Your Poggio is content with little and you shall see this for yourself; sometimes I am free for reading, free from all care of public affairs which I leave to my superiors. I live free as much as I can.” After fifty years of working, Poggio retires with money and devotes himself to his humanist ideals, book hunting and reading, and writing. This secular man, this humanist who moved freely as the Pope’s secretary found himself free again after the deposed Pope XXIII, a name not to be used until 1960’s, was gone. Poggio now set out on his destiny like the atoms spoken about in the Poem he was to find, which help thinkers think. On the Nature of Things might be called an atheists treatise, but it is not. The center of the argument is the atom, how it attaches and repels other atoms, how it is the foundation for everything, the gods, man, the cattle, the fish, the leaf. This is new and compelling thinking from a man from ancient Rome, blasphemous for sure. For Poggio to be discovering it and then copying it for his generation and for others who will follow, the text will rock the church and thinking.
The swerves make such sense and certainly captured my thinking about life, especially as we see it in its age-old battle with religion and the origin of things. I wonder how many other Lucretius like folks we have lost over time.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Killer Critique by Alexander Campion

Killer Critique by Alexander Campion is the return to work and antics of Capucine and Alexandre. She is a police Commissaire and he a senior food critic for Le Monde.  Another food critic drowns in his soup and it is on film because he was video taping the meal as part of his work. He wasn’t dead when his face fell into the soup. It stayed there and he drowned in his own soup. It raises some questions of why no one helped him.
After two more murders, Capucine has a serial killer to catch. This novel takes a turn to the bizarre as she consults a profiler, Vavasseur, who lives in a very weird place. She knows who the murderer is, but needs evidence. Since food critics are being targeted, Alexandre is always a target in Capucine’s mind. She has discovered the fetish of the killer and merely has to set the trap with the correct bait at the right place and time. This is a more psychological novel than the others and with fewer graphical descriptions of food.  The scenes with Vavasseur are priceless as is our favorite letch, Jacques. This novel has more of a Nordic feel to it, than the French touch of the first two novels. It is of course satiating.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Enon by Paul Harding

The Enon of Enon by Paul Harding is a place. A place where a family lives, a family of many generations. The narrator, the father, begins by telling us about the death of his daughter, the leaving of his wife and if it couldn’t gat any worse his tumbling into despair and the house into disrepair. And that’s juts the first two chapters. How and why to continue you ask?
Charlie, the narrator, relates Enon history and remembers his family’s history. The unidentifiable yellow bird is the magic. The magic is remembering, because sometimes it’s hard to remember. We are treated to his and Kate’s interactions and conversations as she was growing up. Great image of him cleaning, no ravaging, the house.  Along the way, it looks like he is trying to follow her as he is drowning in alcohol and drugs. In his despair he has conversations with his dead daughter. What stuns me is how quickly and easily his wife abandoned him. That is never clear except that was her nature anyway. The constant drumming of the theme, “Life is a gift, we are blessed to be alive,” sets the cadence of the plot. We all should have a Mrs Hale in our lives. I had a Mrs Stone. Grieving isn’t easy. It is not being violent or selfish. For Charlie, it starts with getting sober.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen

A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen is a variation on ‘a message in a bottle.’ This message was written in blood with a heading of HELP in Danish, though Icelandic was first considered. The bottle was found in fishermen nets, on a ship that eventually sunk with all on board, but not before they turned it over to a Scottish policeman who died in a car chase after receiving the bottle. The bottle was eventually picked up about four years later by a curious tech genius who broke the bottle to find the note written in blood. The bottle and note finally arrived in the hands of Carl Morck, a Danish cop with Department Q, the cold case department. To add to their woes, Carl’s offices have asbestos problems so he and his assistants, Rose and Assad have to find new temporary office space in an already overstaffed office building.
We know the note was written by one of two boys being held by a man who was going to presumably kill these lads. The one lad with hands bound and mouth duct taped, somehow wrote this note behind his back in his own blood and forced it into a bottle that was floating in the debris that was around them in the fjord water they were being held. One lad was killed while the other was not returned after a ransom was paid with instructions that the murderer would find them if they told the cops. Their fate and murderer is the subject of this mystery.
Religious cults, rebellious sons, and pay back are the backbone of this devilish plot. The incarnate himself is a master of planning, of observing, and then striking with a wrath equal to none. And with the single purpose of wiping the smile off his father’s face at the expense of others. He is plodding along one God loving soul at a time, while the other is there as a reminder. But even for him it gets complicated.
Chaplin was much funnier than the chaplain’s son.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Lowlands by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Lowlands by Jhumpa Lahiri is a history lesson with two brothers, Udayan and his slightly older brother Subhash, the protagonists.  The boys are growing up in turbulent times in Calcutta, India in the 1960’s. It is post Partition, riots in Naxalbari in the Darjeeling District (nothing has changed), and at the time of global student unrest.
The brothers are following different paths. Udayan is adventurous and rebellious; while Subhash is quiet, studious, and American bound to a Rhode Island University. Change is in the air as chaos reigns around the world and youth is at the center of this change. This novel also reads like a documentary. The author is telling and interspersing dialogue to support the narrative of a documentary. It is a beautifully told narrative, but lacks the passion that the story should evoke. This is a sad story that is bereft of the crying. There is happiness without the joy.
The world must be confusing for Bela with the difference between Rhode Island and Calcutta, as well as with her parents. Also for Subhash who once snuck into a club that he is now accepted in. It’s about the lies, so reread Montaigne.
About Subhash: “Already there was a pill to lower the cholesterol, another to raise his potassium, a daily aspirin to promote the passage of blood to his heart through his veins. He stored them in a plastic box with seven compartments, labeled with the days of the week, counting them out with his morning oatmeal.” Is this where we all end up?
As a parent we can only help our children with their choices. As teachers we can only help them with choices. Our choices are ours and we own them. This novel is about choices and owning them. It is also about relationships. It is a simple story of two brothers and the choices they each make in difficult times.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Black Skies by Arnaldur Indridason

Black Skies by Arnaldur Indridason opens with Erlendur still on leave in the country. In the last novel, Elínborg worked alone and the story was all about her. This time it is about Sigurdur Óli. He has been approached by a classmate to help his sister-in-law who got involved with “swinging” and is now being blackmailed.
Just as the last novel was a study in rape, this is a study in pedophilia and child porn. Many discussions of intimacy serve as the backbone of this novel. We first hear about swinging couples and then some more about individuals in these couples. We hear about a drunk who is reliving his childhood abuse and filming by his stepfather and now his sudden discovery of his stepfather. Sigurdur’s relationships with his mother and his old schoolmates. Finally we have the relationship of Sigurdur and his now divorced wife, Bergthóra. The title is perfect as all of these relationships are under black skies.
The murdered lady was a swinger, a married woman who slept around, as did her husband, and a blackmailer. And of course what wouldn’t make an Icelandic novel more complete than corrupt, bad mannered, pompous, greedy bankers before their fall. Most of the action is in Reykjavik with a stroll and discussion about the symphony center, Harpa, which is under construction in this novel. It is complete now and is very controversial.
There is a great deal packed into these 330 pages. Erlendur has been gone a fortnight out east presumably looking for traces of his long lost brother. In that time we have been entertained to two great novels about his fellow detectives, Elínborg in the last novel and Sigurdur in this one. We now know a great deal of all three of these interesting Icelandic detectives and about Iceland. I can’t wait till the next novel is released.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Grave Gourmet by Alexander Campion

The Grave Gourmet by Alexander Campion is the debut of the Capucine Culinary Mysteries. Capucine is a newbie on the rise with the police while her husband, Alexander is a star in the food circles of Paris since he is an elite food critic. A Friday night patron’s body is found in the food locker Monday at a three star restaurant. Capucine luckily catches this case since she was in the right place at the right time and because of her husband. A great scene about oysters introduces the chemistry between these two early in the novel and series. Chemistry also plays a big role in the creation of food. We are wined and dined from the get-go as we get recipes and enjoy a meal with the duo and others.
The case is all about a fuel injector being built by Renault. The injector will make the car more fuel-efficient. Capucine has stumbled over American spies, Korean spies, and too many romances to count all the while consuming large quantities of fine food and better wine. A particular sommelier provides some fun as he finds wine more important than food. He may be right, haha. Capucine’s cousin, Jacques, who works for the French equivalent of the FBI is introduced and his dirty old man character is humorous, especially since Capucine knows how to handle him, so we are entertained. Then there is a scene simply described as “Adam and Eve meet the Untouchables.” Very funny, laugh out loud hilarious.
Glasses clink in the end of an EXTREMELY delicious series debut.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Compound Murder by Bill Crider

Compound Murder by Bill Crider is another Dan Rhodes Mystery. Ah domesticity, Rhodes lives in a zoo. An English teacher gets killed in Texas, glad I’ve retired. Quoting the Dean, “it’s always something with the English teachers.”
Sheriff Dan Rhodes always seems to have his days filled with hair robbery from the solon, cooper wire theft from air conditioners and abandoned houses, hogs running amuck in houses and murder.  One of the college students suspected of being involved with the murder of his English professor lives and was brought up on a Waco type compound. He, however, wants out, which is why he is going to the local college. Rhodes has a quite, thoughtful demeanor, despite what his deputy thinks. He is also the model for a fictional heroic sheriff. He doesn’t disappoint in the end. As he sets out to solve the murder of the English teacher he proves to them he is no country bumpkin, he knows things that shock them. His house has one more rescued animal, a cat this time.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Stranded by Alex Kava

Stranded by Alex Kava is a “Criminal Minds” kind of story. We have a serial killer who hunts at highway rest stops and buries, after disemboweling the victims, in one place. The killer, who is taunting the FBI, has sent a map of the burial site to the FBI investigators, Maggie O’Dell and Tully. The personal interest part of the story is about a man who rescues dogs and trains the to be corpse finders is the brother of a young girl who went missing many years ago. He is seeking closure, one way or the other.
The plot gets creepy quickly in a Patricia Cromwell sort of way as her forensic scientist character, Kay Scarpetta, becomes entangled with the killers in her investigations to the point some are killed in her house. In Stranded, the killer becomes a narrator, has bought Maggie and her crew a round of drinks, unbeknownst to anyone, after the FBI discovered the burial ground. When she can’t find her FBI cap, she ignores it. That cap is what sets off his next killing when his victim recognizes it on the head of the killer. He is stalking Maggie; they are kindred spirits in his head. As I said it gets creepy quickly.
In spite of all the skills the agents command, it is always amazing how we/they miss the obvious. Understanding our instincts is crucial, as we always have to consider fight or flight. We have another story with dogs who play an important role. A reminder that love to children is very very important in their development.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Asheville Breweries

I drove to Asheville, NC to do a brewery crawl with my daughter, Caitlin and her husband George. I arrived at the cottage we rented for the weekend at 4:30 and they arrived an hour later.  We had dinner reservations for 8 at Cucina24. After dinner we went to Jack of the Wood to sample some local brews and to hear two Appalachian bands.
On Saturday we visited eight breweries and had dinner at Table.  Our goal was to sample their beers by ordering flights at each brewery. After breakfast we headed east to Lookout Brewery. This was a fun stop. The brewery opened on May 1st and had some very fine brews. The brew master gave us a taste of some future releases, which were good. Their amber and Jive Turkey were superb. Our next stop was Pisgah Brewery. This was a very impressive brewery with lots of space and a fantastic stage. We sampled a dozen of their beers. The most intriguing was the “wet” hops beers. The hops were grown right there. We had lunch and then drove on to Oscar Blues Brewery in Brevard. This was a wild place with great atmosphere, but the beer was disappointing. Dale’s Pale Ale was the only beer to merit mention IMHO. Our next stop was Brevard Brewing Company. Another new brewery like Lookout, but not with the signature taste. We were 50% as we headed back to Asheville and Highland Brewery before dinner at Table. Bingo we hit the jackpot. A spacious brewery with a great stage and music. The highlight was their Rye beer. Dinner was fabulous. After dinner we walked to three more breweries in Asheville. Our first stop was Lexington Ave Brewery (LAB). My favorite was their Rye. We drove to our next stop, which would include two breweries and a club with great music. The first brewery was Asheville Brewing which was a pleasant surprise. Everything on the flight was very good especially the Fire Escape. We sauntered over to Hi-Wire Brewing, which was another very satisfying brewery with a very good rye beer and IPA. We closed the evening around the corner at Ben’s Tune Up restaurant that had a fabulous band.
Woke up Sunday with no fog and warmer than yesterday. Because everything opened later today we hung out. We started the day in Asheville at Wicked Weed Brewery. A large establishment with a tasting room downstairs and a restaurant upstairs. The standout were their saisons. We then walked to Curate Tapas House for lunch before heading out west to continue our brewery crawl. We headed for Hendersonville and Southern Appalachian Brewery and enjoyed their flight and especially their autumn ale and Copperhead Amber. Heading bvack to the outskirts of Asheville found us at French Broad Brewery and their dogs. They had a particularly good Rye beer. In the neighborhood was Green Man, which was out of most beers except their delightful Rainmaker. Almost around the corner and down by the river was the most enjoyable family oriented Wedge Brewing Company. Good beers but a better ambiance and a brewery I would frequent often if I lived here. Closing out the tour at another family oriented neighborhood brewery, The Altamont Brewing Company was packed and offered a grand selection oftheir own beers as well as some other brews form other NC breweries farther from Asheville, which gave us a chance to taste beers we couldn’t get to, what a bonus. Completely exhausted we headed home for some cheese and crackers before dinner at The Admiral. Out of town, this quiet former dive bar has become a favorite haunt of locals for extremely fine traditional food done in unique ways.
We had a fantastic time in Asheville and plan to return in the spring to see how the seasonal beers then taste. We will visit breweries we missed this trip, visit some we saw now, and enjoy the food from other restaurants, which rank with those we did eat at. Next time the National parks will be open so we can do some hiking which we missed this time, GRRRR.
Bottoms up.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Unleashed by David Rosenfelt

Unleashed by David Rosenfelt is another mystery novel in a series. The title has many meanings. The main characters are a couple. Andy Carpenter is an independently wealthy criminal lawyer who doesn’t like cases and his wife, Laurie, a former cop turned investigator for him. Cases come to him rather than the other way around and he is more interested in make up sex, going away sex, returning home sex, than law cases. But when he takes on a case, well he is all in with a crew that would put the A-Team to shame. Oh and money is no object. Oh yeah, dogs seem to play a prominent role in the Andy Carpenter series. His dog Tara is headlined and in Unleashed a new dog is Crash because he was found or rather hit by one of his friends, Sam, who works for Andy. Crash has powers.
It is good luck to pet Crash as we learn throughout this novel. The tale starts out with a drone strike in Pakistan that promises revenge and retaliation. It involves lots of money and the key money man discovers his involvement and tries to stop it only to die. His death begins a cascading number of deaths and accusations of his murder. It’s about paying attention to details and having a guy like Marcus on your side because Marcus is Marcus. He is better than the FBI as we see and appreciate. Andy and Laurie aren’t too bad either with their octogenarian researchers. We all need a Crash and a Marcus.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Death of a Chef by Alexander Campion

Death of a Chef by Alexander Campion begs the question, why would someone kill a chef? Let’s find out shall we. While in Paris I saw one of the coolest methods of moving someone in or out of an apartment in a walkup building. It was an escalator type of ladder. The furniture was strapped on and up or down it went with ease and wear and tear on the people doing the moving. But for one antique portemanteau filled with a dead chef, the movers were wondering why it weighted so much. 

Campion is much like Martin Walker in that food; very good food is devoured during the investigation of a murder. Wine is also consumed. In this series, Capucine is the ‘head of detectives’ and her husband, Alexandre, is not only a good cook in his own right, but is also a renowned food critic in Paris. Recipes from three star restaurants appear on the author’s website as they do on Walker’s. Both authors go into great detail about cooking; how it is done so the reader could actually reproduce some of this food, which includes some irreproducible dishes as well as some very traditional and classic French cuisine.
In the case of the murdered chef, Capucine has her detectives scouring all over Paris as well as making sorties into the country. In addition to being a fine gourmet’s delight it also serves as a good travelogue. Reading this novel makes me hungry and wanting to return to Paris. What we often see in these mysteries is a connection to the past and this one is a doozey and a young girl is in the middle of it.
The fun of this off beat mystery is that we go from kitchen to kitchen, be it a three star restaurant or in someone’s house or apartment. During the preparing and cooking our detectives also do police business and then over a fine meal and a proper wine they discover something about the murder while we only get hungry. But I am learning something and for me it is more tarragon.
Alexandre and Capucine are a modern day Nick and Nora Charles of sorts as they banter about things always over a drink and food and at a nice restaurant. But the scene-stealer is always cousin Jacques. The comic element is always furthered by an exchange like this: “Isabelle, remember that phrase from Sherlock Holmes I always like to quote. Let the facts dictate your theory. Don’t try to force them into your preconceived notion.”  “Commissaire, this isn’t some mystery novel. This is the real world, where there are no coincidences.”
What we have here is a fine book on culinary delights liberally sprinkled with murders. Bon Appétit.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Let Him Go by Larry Watson

Let Him Go by Larry Watson keeps me out west in North Dakota, 1951. This novel has more of a feel and read like Cormac McCarthy than Ivan Doig. It is a tale of grandparents, George and Margaret Blackledge, trying to recover their grandson. He has survived his father’s tragic and sudden death after falling of a horse. His mother has remarried and they have moved away to his family’s ranch. Margaret is the spark in this quest and George is there to support his wife. She is concerned about the family tree, the generation she has no influence on, and the reminder to her of her son.
Mother bears have their ways, as do men. This is the west in the 50’s, Montana specifically. One clan lives on one side of Montana and another clan lives on the other. One clan, the Weboys, have taken a grandson from the other, the Blackledges, and plans to raise him as their own. The Blackledges take action against the other clan, not popular and feared in their own community. It gets ugly and bloody. We all know how we as parents would behave and react. This is a typical dark Montana/North Dakota kind of tale.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sweet Thunder by Ivan Doig

Sweet, the latest from Ivan Doig, Sweet Thunder. At the end of the last novel, Whistling Season, Morrie Morgan had made a bet on the 1919 World Series and won a bundle. He and his new bride, Grace Faraday, married and spent four months honeymooning in Europe, Eastern America before returning to Butte, via San Francisco. Morgan’s former employee, Sandy Sandison, Butte’s librarian and former rancher, has bestowed his mansion to the couple after his wife has died with the one provision he can still live there. So it is 1920, Grace has a new house, Morgan is unemployed, the two old curmudgeons, Hoop and Griff, from Graces former boarding house join them. Anaconda Mining is still king of Butte much to everyone’s regret.
Morrie becomes Pluvius, his nom de plume for the editorial voice of a new upstart newspaper to counter the pulp owned by Anaconda. It isn’t the first time Morrie has changed names, which gets him in trouble with Grace who moves back to the boardinghouse. His lost luggage finally arrived. Morrie has a gambling history from Chicago and has the mob looking for him. In addition he is mistaken for the local moonshiner, Highliner. Just trying to live a simple life, Morrie keeps getting deeper and deeper into it as the past slowly creeps back, the present confounds him, and the future, well that’s anyone’s guess.
The action of this novel takes place in literary settings a well-stocked library and a newsroom. The library serves all characters well fro the well read Morrie to the fledgling reading newsboy and everyone in between. There is even a celebration of Burns on January 25th. Latin quotes and constant references to classical literature abound to satiate any reader, especially a retired English teacher.
Perhaps the most despicable character in the book is Grace. In a book of villains and crooks and back stabbers, she is by far one of the most horrendous characters I have had the displeasure of meeting. She is Morrie’s weakness and very much undermines his otherwise admirable character. She is selfish, disloyal, and utterly shameless. There are no redeeming qualities about this woman. It is she who should be apologizing to Morrie instead of the other way around. She jumps to conclusions and is too judgmental to be worthy of Morrie. She makes Cutlass a more honorable character. She is one of those horrible women we get fooled by in life.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Humans by Matt Haig

After the last read, it seems appropriate to read The Humans by Matt Haig. A visitor from far far away visits earth, takes over a human’s body and life, Professor Andrew Martin, and writes a book about his adventures, discoveries, and observations. Hilarious would be to put it mildly. “No wonder they are a species of primitives. By the time they have read enough books to actually reach a state of knowledge where they can do anything with it, they are dead. They need to sit down and look at each word consecutively.”
Our visitor is here because Prof Martin has solved/proven the Riemann hypothesis and this is not good for the universe. Our visitor’s mission is to eliminate all traces of the proof and to eliminate all who know about it. Integrating into the family and work is a daunting task for our visitor. The wife, Isobel, the son, Gulliver, and the dog, Newton must be probed for information and then eliminated is the general consensus. He tells the dog after enjoying a jar of peanut butter and music, Debussy and the Beach Boys, “I am here to destroy information. Information that exists in the bodies of certain machines and the minds of certain humans. That is my purpose. Although, obviously, while I am here I am also collecting information. Just how volatile are they? How violent? How dangerous to themselves to others? Are their flaws – and there do seem to be quite a few – insurmountable? Or is there hope for them? These questions are the sort I have in mind, even if I am not supposed to. First and foremost though, what I am doing is elimination.” So instead of eliminating Newton, he cures his blindness, fixes his limp and turns a hater into a lover. Instead of growling at the visitor now, Newton licks the visitor’s face and follows him everywhere. He connects with Gulliver who has been estranged from the Professor for two years. Something was happening to the visitor.
The Mork like conversations the visitor is having with his home planet are disturbing his people. The visitor is getting too close, too involved with humans for their liking. Is the mission going to be compromised? No, he insists, just more research is needed. Be careful, the humans will suck you in if you aren’t on guard, they remind him. Too late.

Monday, September 23, 2013

We are all Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We are all Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler starts in the middle of things, which is always a good place to start. It saves us tedious beginnings and forces us to pay better attention. Shakespeare always started his plays in the middle of something, usually a conversation causing us to pay attention and try to catch up. We are in the middle of a family situation. A daughter, Rosemary Cooke, of a college professor is taking more than four years to complete college. Rose is the narrator and entertains us with her language prowess. She aced the SAT verbal. Part of the family problem arises with her older sister, Fern, a chimpanzee. Rose’s college professor father was a psychologist studying language and chimpanzees and raising a chimp with a human.  Fern eventually has to move o to a different environment and that upsets the family dynamics.
I’m laughing one moment then weeping the next. Another dysfunctional family trying to put itself back together again at Thanksgiving, “Restored and repaired. Reunited. Refulgent.” We always think everyone else’s family is more normal than ours. The question raised here is that there is no normal family.
Memory plays an important part in this novel. Rose has memories and as she sifts through them with us, we get closer to her and slowly understand more about us primates and about our own cruel and shameful acts. Animal and behavior science still has a long way to go before it is humane.  Rose loves to play with solipsism and the theory of mind as she interacts with classmates. She is constantly reminded that, “You always learn as much from failure as from success, Dad always says.” Personally. I think we learn more from failure, since success too often is a mistake and we really don’t know why we succeeded, but we do know more about why we fail. Still Rose wonders why she keeps making the same mistake over and over again.
Suddenly without warning this novel becomes a story about animal cruelty and the ALF, Animal Liberation Front. Lowell, Rose’s older brother, is up to his neck in this organization and is wanted by the FBI.
At some point during the reading, I remembered a family that once lived across the street from us when I was in 7th grade. The boy and I were friends. They had chimpanzee that lived with them. Their house was designed for the chimp. The house was separated. There was the chimp part and there was the human part. We spent lots of time in the chimp part because it was one large playroom. I don’t recall why they had a chimp nor why they had designed their house to accommodate the chimp. I remember when they moved, too. It was sad. I suspect now that my neighbors were like the Cookes.
I think I have to reread Franz Kafka’s “A Report for an Academy.”