Sunday, November 30, 2003

Whirlwind of a weekend, with not a minute to write. I finished reading Old School (see post of November 25).

I'm in a terrible quandary as to what to read next. I have an advance reader's proof of The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard which just won the National Book Award. The book was literally pressed into my hands by a sales rep at the New England Booksellers Association trade show last month. After reading about twenty-five pages, I'm questioning whether I want to proceed. With the fluidity of Wolff's elegant prose in my memory, the opening pages of Hazzard's novel hit me like jumping into a pool of arctic water. Her prose is dense and heavy. One must concentrate on each and every sentence to derive the full meaning. This can be a worthwhile pursuit, if the ideas follow a logical progression and the story manages to go somewhere. I've leafed through the book, hoping for a glimmer of hope and am so far not sure that this is the book for me right now.
I just opened the book to select a random paragraph to illustrate what I'm getting at. In less than five seconds, I found several. Here's one.
"Indoors, a foyer whose beams and architraves might bring down the house was floored with gritty terrazzo and seared with light. Another, huger strain resounded with Occidental boots and voices, and with the high speech, soft or yelping of young Western women, astonishing because unheard in many months. They glanced at the new arrival climbing among them, and women noted a durable man." book please.
So I've picked up Reunion by Alan Lightman. Opening chapter, aahhh...much better.
Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

As I navigated the jam-packed aisles of the Bread and Circus market in Newton yesterday morning, surrounded by other shoppers all snatching up their favorite holiday foods, I couldn't help but be struck by a disquieting realization.

What are we all doing, celebrating our plenty--our collective obesity, if you will--in a world where the vast majority of the people are hungry? I admit I feel a bit like a party pooper to voice this thought on one of our most cherished national holidays. I could continue this thread, if I weren't sure I'd be turning away readers. No one wants to be reminded, on Thanksgiving of all days, of the way the U.S. and its large corporations finagle it so that we have lots, and much of the rest of the world's people have so little.

American Policy to Starve German Prisoners of War?

I have been reading--more like studying, actually--the book Crimes and Mercies: The Fate of German Civilians Under Allied Occupation, 1944-1950 by James Bacque.
Disturbing assertions abound in this small volume. According to Bacque (not a historian, by the way), Eisenhower established a postwar policy of starving German POWs held in American camps in the immediate postwar weeks and months. The evidence of this has long been noted in German and Austrian publications, but is not generally available to American audiences. In fact, Crimes and Mercies was published in Canada and Britain.

While most historians of the period agree that German POWs suffered terrible privation in American, British, and French camps after the war, they also agree that Bacque's research and statistical reasoning is flawed, so much so that the book cannot be relied upon to back up the assertions of any American who might claim that Eisenhower insisted on starving the Germans, even if there is enough evidence to suggest that it is fact.

More quality research is needed in this area. I will report more as I dig it up.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I'm reading Old School, Tobias Wolff's first novel and am in love with his writing. Although a New York Times critic declared that he couldn't tell the difference between the prose of Wolff's memoirs and that of this novel; I, who have never read Wolff before, find his work elegant. Like Hemingway, the idol of the book's teenaged prepschool narrator, Wolff's every word counts and is full of meaning.

Set in a New England boys' prep school in the early 1960s, the novel revolves around the school's annual literary competition, the top honor being the opportunity to sit for an hour with a celebrated writer. The narrator loses out on his chance to talk with Robert Frost and Ayn Rand, but hopes against hope that in his third year he will meet his idol Hemingway.

Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead sets him all on fire. "I was discovering the force of my will. To read The Fountainhead was to feel this caged power, straining like a dammed-up river to break loose and crush every impediment to its free running. I understood that nothing stood between me and my greatest desires--nothing between me and greatness itself--but the temptation to doubt my will and bow to counsels of moderation, expedience, and conventional morality, and shrink into the long, slow death of respectability...."

The dialogues between the students and each author are incredibly funny, especially the conversation with Rand. Not to be missed. I am just about to read the Hemingway section, so I'll have to have an update on that later. By the way, by following the New York Times link, you'll find the book's first chapter.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

By the time Thanksgiving approaches, I have finally adjusted to the darkness of late afternoon. I find myself delighting in the hours I spend reading and writing by the glow of the lamp next to my desk.

When I walk the dog after supper, I enjoy noticing what my neighbors are up to. Does the bluish radiance of the tv in my friend's family room mean that her sons' homework was light tonight and does not require her usual parental supervision? An unfamiliar car in another home's driveway and lights on in the dining room--company for dinner? And what about the new neighbors with their humungous entertainment center--what show have they tuned into this evening? These observations make the chill and the wet of the requisite dog walk vanish.

Probably my favorite way to spend a late afternoon and early evening is to curl up and read on the couch in the family room with Sophie cuddled next to me. As long as I stroke her head or some doggie body part, she'll let me read on. Precariously balanced on the couch's left arm is a hot cup of Darjeeling tea. The house is still. The corners are dark. I become lost in the life of the characters I'm reading about and I find myself unwinding, bit by bit, until I'm totally relaxed.

Friday, November 21, 2003

I was ultimately not disappointed by Elaine Neil Orr's Gods of Noonday: A White Girl's African Life as I had feared after reading the first few chapters. She is at her best when recreating the world of a white teenager struggling to come of age in an isolated, socially stifling, conservative missionary community in eastern Nigeria in the 1950s and 1960s, a society that was every bit as foreign to me as the world of the Igbo and Yoruba people the Southern Baptist missionaries were trying to help. Orr's memories do not reflect that she had an awareness of racial issues in her youth, nor does she openly comment on race from her vantage point as a twenty-first century academic. Still, the events and details she recalls, demonstrate the overtly imperialistic mindset of the Southern Baptists and their privileged way of life, as each family enjoyed a full staff of servants and a standard of living that was far beyond their reach in the U.S.
Nigeria called out to Orr, but it was the land she was attached to, not its people. Her descriptions of swimming in the transparent, chilled waters of the Ethiope River are beautiful, especially her memory of her first personal sexual experience.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Trying to see if any of my cohorts are at all interested in planning a gathering to view MoveOn's video "Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War" on December 7th. I think it would arouse some interest among UUs in our congregation, even among those who are indifferent to world poverty and the fair trade issues we've been agitating this year. So far over 1,000 parties have been planned nationwide.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Still reeling from the Mass Audubon study released a week ago, "Losing Ground: At What Cost?," which reveals a host of facts that can surprise no one. The largest land consumption of the past 18 years has been to large lot, large residential developments. In fact, nine out of ten acres eaten up by development from 1985 to 1999 was residential. Let's face it, the McMansions go with big lots, not in towns closest to Boston of course, but in the 495 belt and in southeastern Massachusetts. 71 % of Massachusetts' wetlands, forests, lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, and open land do not have permanent protection and are in danger of succumbing to development in the near future.

Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary

Some towns are taking open space preservation seriously. In Sharon, residents are aggressively promoting plans to save more wildlife habitat. Canton has preserved a few acres here and there, but residents in town show little or no interest in any environment-related issue, even when a town well was to be dug adjoining land with contaminated groundwater! Hard to fathom. In any event, the issue is of great concern to me and I will watch for opportunities to be active in this regard.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, perfect for getting a good photo of the new western entrance to the Canton Library. The town was so fortunate to grab some of the public funds for library improvements while the money was around. Nearly a year into Governor Mitt Romney's reign, there's scarcely a cent to be had, although I did hear that he is allocating some money to state-wide library renovations.

Today I finally made it to the Boston Athenaeum to pick up an interlibrary loan. Then I dashed over to the Boston Public Library to borrow a few books on postwar Germany. I always enjoy the trip into town on the commuter train, observing the world of the worker bees who hustle in and out everyday.

There's a definite commuter rail culture during peak hour transit that is not apparent at other times of the day. The biggie is "Don't talk to anyone except someone you know." Another is, "If you truly must look at another rider, make the glance furtive and fleeting. Turn your eyes away the second that he/she notices your gaze."

On the noon train, strangers may exchange comments. Cell phone users talk loudly. One may belch, cough incessantly, and bark reprimands to one's children without garnering a train-full of annoyed looks.

Something peculiar today; it seems that many more commuters are actually reading Boston Metro, the free paper that litters T-stations, trains, and trolleys. What gives? Did the Boston Globe increase its price recently? The Herald? I found a half-dozen reading the BM on the T from Park St. to Copley. Something different is definitely happening there. I'll have to investigate. The BM URL supplied by Google doesn't work, so I won't link to it until I'm sure it'll get you there.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Every Blogger blogger must be blogging right now because nothing is working. Late Sunday afternoon, it's completely dark. Nothing else to do, so blog updating beckons, I guess. I was hoping to test out some HTML stuff I've been learning, but if I can't view my blog, there's no point to that.

Canton Public Library finally reopened after its renovation and it's so beautiful! The place was sardine-packed with people and little tots today, so I only snapped a couple of photos. I'd upload one, but with Blogger so screwy now, I'll wait til later. Til then!

Saturday, November 15, 2003

This morning, after taking Sophie for a romp at Larz Anderson Park, we drove over to Brookline Booksmith for a browse. Sophie was a little hard to handle; I guess we didn't tire her out enough. My next visit will be sans chien. The luxury of poring over a book without an overgrown puppy yanking my arm out of the socket!

We then walked up Harvard St. to Barnes and Noble to look for HTML books. (Brookline Booksmith has a woefully limited selection of computer books.) I bought HTML and XHTML: The Definitive Guide, an O'Reilly book by Chuck Musciano and Bill Kennedy. This is all very well, learning HTML and all, but I don't see how to use HTML to align images and text using the Blogger interface. So...any ideas out there?

Yes, I am going to write about Gods of Noonday: A White Girl's African Life (see my November 10th post), but what I'd really like to do is figure out a way to align my text to the right of the image. Alas, I'm only very slowly learning HTML, which I'm mostly doing by studying source codes of weblogs. If anyone has an HTML book to recommend, I'd love to know about it.

More later today...

Thursday, November 13, 2003

My buddies are coming over to my house tonight to discuss how technology has personally transformed our lives and society. I realize that this topic may seem a smidgin broad to the uninitiated, to those who cannot claim membership in our little group, but we get together twice a month to chew on issues of common interest. It never seems to bother anyone that a topic is too huge to be manageable. This seems to be a distinctive characteristic of the UUs I know now, so I have become used to it and can be alternately serious and silly with the rest of them as we bat around ideas.

In the interest of fair trade and my war against the FTAA (see the post of November 9), I will serve Equal Exchange coffee to everyone.

The winds are here and Sophie goes absolutely wild over it. She prances, jumps, and skittles to the left and right, her ears flapping. What a walk I had with her this lunchtime, if you can call it that!

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I was planning to make a Boston Athenaeum/Boston Public Library trip tomorrow, but the high-wind warnings are going to keep me at home. The weather people have posted warnings to people who are going to try walking about downtown Boston tomorrow. I think I'll wait til Monday. I/m not messing around with gales of hurricane force while surrounded by tall buildings--I'd end up in a tesseract for sure. C'mon you Madeleine L'Engle fans, remember that one?

Until then, I've got From the Ruins of the Reich:Germany 1945-1949 by Douglas Botting to read. The first few chapters are full of deeply grim stories from the end of the war and the first few postwar months. Appalling chaos, brutal starvation, violence. Millions of people with nowhere to go and exhausted, war-weary soldiers to police them all. A recipe for disaster.

On a brighter note, I've turned to Almost French:Love and a New Life in Paris by the Australian journalist Sarah Turnbull for my work-out reading. Light-hearted, charming, not deep (underline this), a welcome respite from postwar Europe. So far Frederic, Frederique?, the Parisian she's mad about, seems so crazy (he's into highly staged practical jokes, for one thing) that it's a puzzle how she ever connected with him, but it does make for an entertaining read.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

A Novemberish view of the marsh from my bedroom window. (For contrast, check out the same view from my October 17 post). As much as I bemoan the loss of the bright color, I have to admit the gray feathering of the swamp maple grove is a solace.

Monday, November 10, 2003

I admit the book cover image is a little bit, well...big. I'm still learning about resizing images. It's terrific that Houghton Mifflin has a book cover download option on some of its titles' webpages. I don't see why more publishers don't do it. How can more advertising be bad from their point of view?

Secret Father is a thought-provoking read from start to finish. I would not advise reading this before bed if you are the type who finds your head nodding from time to time because this novel requires (and rewards) concentration. Carroll weaves a heady psychological layer of suspense all through the book's spy-thriller elements, making it exhilarating for readers who prefer an adventure with subtle characterization and depth. He also manages to dispense a modicum of philosophical gut-wrenching in the midst of the drama that unfolds in East Berlin.

When the banker father is stumbling his way through East Germany to rescue his son, I was so reminded of the protagonist in Kafka's The Trial, who is suddenly and mysteriously overwhelmed by an incomprehensible authority and world order. Carroll reveals what's underneath the skin of both the father and the son, portraying the relationship in all its angst beautifully. A novel well worth the trouble; i.e. it is not a light, frothy read by any means.

So I'm on to my next book. I'm guardedly reading the first few chapters of Gods of Noonday: A White Girl's African Life by Elaine Orr, a memoir about her childhood in Nigeria in the 1950s and 60s. (This title was one of the Booksense 76 Picks for September and October.) I named Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller about her childhood in Rhodesia, Zambia, and Malawi the best book of 2001 (back when it was in hardcover and no one knew about it) and was hoping for something similar. But while I was at the gym today, I started Gods of Noonday and became a little nervous that Orr is painting an idyllic world of colonial Nigeria and that's all she's going to present. I will read on through the syrupy, poetic sweetness and hope for a blast of reality. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Scrambling like mad to finish preparing protest materials for the "Stop FTAA" campaign" to distribute during coffee hour at church today. Trade ministers from all over North America will converge on Miami in ten days and it's time to bury them with petitions and messages that declare that Americans want fair trade, not FTAA. The FTAA, if it goes through, will extend NAFTA-like policies through all of North America, hurting workers and small farmers in the U.S. and in every North American country, making their struggle to subsist ever more difficult, if not impossible.

Now is the time to send e-mails, faxes, and letters to your senators and congressional representatives. To do this quickly and so easily, go to any one of these sites: Oxfam America, United for Peace and Justice, Sierra Club, or the AFL-CIO.

Friday, November 07, 2003

I'm so relieved the book talk on Women During the Civil War went so well. Lots of people came--at least thirty five, if not more; an enthusiastic audience, the best kind. Now that's behind me, I'm contemplating doing some more.

Now back to the end of World War II and postwar Europe. Today I scanned and read parts of Hitler's Children: Sons and Daughters of the Third Reich Talk About Themselves and Their Fathers by Gerald Posner (Random House, 1991.) It's interesting in places, but for my purposes, there was too much information about the histories of the Nazi fathers and not enough about the childhoods of their children. Of course, I was reading to uncover any information I could find about the lives of the sons and daughters during 1945-1950, but, as I mentioned, the focus was completely on the fathers. Posner is an investigative journalist, not a historian, and as a result, his frame of reference does not yield the kinds of analysis and interpretation I'm looking for at all, but still, I wasn't bored, which is something.

I haven't studied German in a week, so intent I was on preparing for the book talk. So I've got to get cracking. In between studying grammar and reviewing vocabulary, I've been trying to translate an intriguing article from Der Spiegel about a UFO incident in Pennsylvania in 1965, which has often been attributed to having been a fireball. I am still working on trying to figure out exactly what the article is trying to say! When I do, I'll report. I'm sorry to say I no longer have the link to the article.

And I promised a Napster update. Halfway through the beta testing period, I was locked out because I don't have Windows XP or Windows 2000 installed on my computer. It seems many of these online music services now require one or the other, and all I have is Windows 98. It's really a shame because I had been a loyal subscriber to Pressplay and I feel I was unceremoniously dumped by Napster. I feel lost without my online tunes. Any guesses on whether I can make it to Christmas without upgrading to XP?

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Going bonkers with the preparation to speak tomorrow. I can't wait for it to be over!

To distract myself from the pain, I'll blog a little about Asne Seierstad, the Norwegian journalist who spent a year living with an Afgan family in Kabul. Her book, The Bookseller of Kabul, has been a #1 bestseller in Norway and is doing a brisk trade in Britain. She'll now go to the top of the charts in the U.S., since the bookseller who welcomed her into his home is now suing. Evidently she unveiled a little too much about his family life, particularly the lives of his wives and the other women in his household. Sounds intriguing. Definitely have to get my hands on a copy.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Grabbing a few moments from the rest of my life to upload a photo from Sunday's walk at the Bradley Estate. A quiet place for much needed repose.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Women During the Civil War arrived today! It's absolutely beautiful, much better than I imagined, although Routledge took the cheap route with the cover photos. Other than that, though, it's perfect.

Busily preparing for my Civil War Women book talk on Thursday afternoon at the Westwood Public Library. Trying to get the details hammered into my brain. This task is consuming all of my work time this week, and as such, I think I will be hard pressed to do much blogging. So, to my readers, bear with me, I'll be back. Hopefully on Friday.

I'm concerned about myself. I've been so busy with promotional activities that I haven't had time to read much lately. I really hate that. I'm still working on Secret Father by James Carroll, for instance.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Ken's photo of Sophie after her swim yesterday, still full of her usual vim and vigor. Always so proud of herself!

Saturday, November 01, 2003

A Saturday with Sophie and Ken at Wellesley College. It seems we picked a parents' weekend to romp across campus. Poor planning on our parts. Just too many people. For the first time, Sophie ran away from us and dove into Lake Waban, swimming her heart out and coming back to us all dirty and smelly. My intent was to play the tennis ball game and snap photographs when permissible. I did manage the latter, though many of my shots ended up blurry from those tugs on the leash.

Colors are muted now, a stark contrast to the brilliance of a couple of weeks ago. Paramecium Pond is a favorite with the canine set, though no owner I know approves of dunks in its muddy depths. A grooming appointment is definitely on the horizon.

Reading James Carroll's Secret Father. I've only read 100 pages so far, so I can't offer a review yet, but I would like to say a few words about him and why he's a person to watch.

Carroll is a former priest, a self-acknowledged Vietnam War draft dodger and anti-war activist who today is a full-time writer. His memoir American Requiem, about the Vietnam days and his troubled relationship with his father, a military man, won the National Book Award in 1996. He currently writes a weekly op-ed column for the Boston Globe that takes Bush, his administration, and its policies apart. If you like to see Bush take a good thrashing on the editorial pages of a major newspaper, check it out.

I had the pleasure of meeting him years ago at a Pen/New England gathering and it is to his credit that he introduced himself to me, an absolute unknown in Boston literary circles. He was with a group of people and was being welcoming, and I appreciated him for it just as I admired his humility