Showing posts from 2012

Imagine--Jonah Lehrer

In his third book length publication Jonah Lehrer takes on the world of creativity, innovation, and to some extent imagination--though that is hardly touched upon at all.  Leaving the secure ground of neuroscience (particularly in the second half og the book) Lehrer strays into the fields of social psychology and sociology with somewhat mixed results.

Perhaps that is only for me.  I tend to become quite skeptical when research involves more than empirically verifiable fact and strays off into the territory of group interaction.  You can say that something worked, but it seems difficult to pinpoint why that something worked in the particular instance.  Taking the well-known example of Pixar, Lehrer  (summarizing the work of others, implies that success was largely the result of architecture forcing hallway meetings and interchange.  This, in turn, blossomed into some of the wonderful films we see from the studio.  If such chance meetings and random conversations were really the breedin…

The Lieutenant--Kate Grenville

I'm not certain that enough good can be said of Kate Grenville.  In this second book of a trilogy devoted to the early history of Australia, she gives us the story of  Daniel Rooke--fashioned loosely after the real-life character of William Dawes.  William Dawes was an early student of the Aboriginal peoples and their language as well as an astronomer and all round polymath.  He was expelled from Australia and went on to join forces with William Wilberforce and, eventually, to open a school for freed-slaves in Antigua.

What Ms. Grenville gives us here is a remarkable story of first contact--of trying to forge the bonds of understanding that would bridge a vast gulf between the experiences of two different cultures.  She performs a remarkable feat in being able to show us the darkness of "civilization" as viewed by the aboriginal people.  She also speaks of the tenderness of heart and kindness that can bridge any gap.  She does all of this in language at once supple and l…

The Secret River--Kate Grenville

One Saturday I happened into the library and stumbled upon a relatively new book by Kate Grenville with the title of Sarah Thornhill. I might not have given it a second glance--but truth is, I did, and doing so discovered that it was the prize-winning third volume of a trilogy.  Never one to start at the end I went looking for the other two volumes and stumbled upon The Secret River. As is the way with a great many things from the library, it took me a while to get around to it, and then some time to get into it.  And once again, I'm very glad I did.
The Secret River tells the story of William and Sarah Thornhill from the time that William was born to an impoverished family in the London Slums through the time of his transportation to Australia and on to his eventual success there.  In the course of the story, he marries Sarah who goes with him to Australia and in the strange way that things transpired in that early colony becomes his overseer and master.  They land in what was to…

Looking for Reviewers

Anyone interested in taking a look at my new novel, Beyond the Rim of Space?  Right now we have the e-file available and if  you're willing to tackle an e-book, I'd be happy to send it to you--just ask that you post a review on Lulu and/or Amazon (when it eventually trickles its way through the Amazon bureaucracy to emerge as a Kindle book.

Oh, and for those kind enough to take a look at this blog from time to time, the alternative cover:  We had several while in the works, and the one above is the one--for a variety of reasons, that we settled on--but each had its merits.  Enjoy!

John Galt et al.

It occurred to me the other day, while reading a remarkable study of the figurehead and inspiration behind our latest round of privateering, that we've really missed the mark.  It really occurred after I attempted to watch Atlas Shrugged in its most recent film incarnation, not wishing to subject myself to the turgid prose and rancid philosophizing of the one person most responsible for the progressive decline of anything good to say about the libertarian ideal.  If  The Book of Mormon could spawn a highly successful Broadway appearance, why not Atlas Shrugged: The Musical,  or better yet, Who is John Galt?: The Musical. It could be paired with a revival of Springtime for Hitler  or Hitler on Ice: The Ice Capades Spectacular (as featured at the end of History of the World: part I). Think of the possible profits--the ability to exploit the poor and downtrodden--the possibility of proselytization.

On a more serious note--a more sobering and bracing study of the influence of Ms. Ran…

It's Easy Being Green

from The Amish Way
Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, David L. Weaver-Zecher

David Kline was green long before it became trendy. He summarizes his theology for eco-friendly living in these words: "If one's livelihood comes from the earth--from the land, from creation on a sensible scale, where humans are a part of the unfolding of the seasons, experience the blessing of drought-ending rains, and seek God's spirit in all creation--a theology for living should be as natural as the rainbow following a summer storm. And then we can pray, 'Help us to walk gently on the earth and to love and nurture your creation and handiwork.'"

On Using the Bible as a Bludgeon

From my Amish reading--a reflection on the proper use of Bible reading.

from The Amish WayDonald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, David L. Weaver-ZercherOne minister, however, cautions that "Bible reading and study is not good when you do it to find fault and criticize churches and people around you. There is a big difference between reading for your daily bread and inspiration, and studying the Bible just to be critical of others or to justify your own contentious and rebellious thoughts."
It is very important to remember that any interpretation of Scripture that is used to harm others or to coerce others very likely lacks authenticity.  If we fail in love, we fail.

Notes on The Amish Way

I will readily confess a deep interest in the Amish way.  Not the romanticized Witness and television drama version of Amish living, but in the witness the Amish offer of the possibility of another way of life--of being separate, apart, and yet whole.

Reading this wonderful book offers insights that go beyond what one might encounter in many books about the Amish.  It does not offer the usual proverbs, sayings, and superficial picture of buggies, bonnets, and barns.  Instead, we are offered a glimpse of Amish worship and how the Amish make meaning.

What is fascinating to me about all major faiths is the way that the emphasize a particular truth of the Gospel (often, I must say, at the expense of representing the fullness of the gospel).  What the Amish show, and represent powerfully is the notion of salvation within community--certainly a theme of Jewish Spirituality--but the main theme of the Amish way.  Everything is about keeping the community as Church intact.  For example, the p…

Revisiting To the Lighthouse

As anyone who may look into this blog from time to time undoubtedly knows, Virginia Woolf wrote a number of modernist masterpieces.  It's hard for me to choose from among her novels, to name the very finest, because each has its own merits, its own unique contributions to the literary world.  But surely it would be impossible to consider modern literature without Mrs. Dalloway with its unfortunate light into Woolf's own life and demise.  Equally, To the Lighthouse, is remarkable for its insights into how a family thrives and does not thrive, how two people relate and refuse to relate.

You really don't get much more pointed in such a discussion than this passage found on the very first page of the novel:

from To the LighthouseVirginia Woolf
"But," said his father, stopping in front of the drawing-room window, "it won't be fine." Had there been an axe handy, a poker, or any weapon that would have gashed a hole in his father's breast and killed him…

The Woman in Black--Susan Hill

I was familiar with the name Susan Hill from that wonderful little book Howard's End Is on the Landing, a kind of compendium of personal favorites from books and literature.  I was familiar with The Woman in Black from the film, which I had wanted to see, but never really had the opportunity.  So, what a wonderful convergence when I discovered that the film I wanted to see came from a source that I knew I would enjoy reading.

And, I was not wrong.  The Woman in Black has the form of a classic ghost story--it even starts on Christmas Eve as children are sharing their made-up ghost stories and the experience plunges our first person narrator into a re-experience of his own horrifying ghost story.

Arthur, a  young lawyer, is sent from London to the middle of nowhere--a small town at the very edges of a great swamp/marsh where stands Eelmarsh House--the home of an eccentric old woman who has recently died.  His job is to go through the papers in the house, extract those that seem mos…

R.I. P. Ray Bradbury

A great loss for literature.

The man who single-handedly got a great many of us to read.

Hiatus: Please Pardon the Advertisement

Some may have wondered to whence I had vanished lo! these long days; and I truly do wish to come back and begin more regular review of the literary (and not so literary) world.

But I have been away preparing for this, my first full book-length fiction publication:  Beyond the Rim of Light.

A collaborative venture between another writer and me, it has been many years in the making.  You can read an excerpt of it here.

E-file versions should be ready for Amazon Kindle and available through Amazon shortly.

You might also wish to check into the Facebook Author Page for Alex Stone, where I will be making feeble attempts to keep everyone updated as I work on the sequel and on two novel-length projects of my own.

Hope to be back reviewing once I can return to the rhythm of things.

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World--John Baxter

A book for those who love Paris and the thought of Paris.  John Baxter is a writer who has lived in places all over the world (Australia, England, and the United States, among others) andhas settled in Paris.  The book is a kind of tribute to Paris.  Starting with some personal recollections and experiences--including one fabulous story about a broken door lock on Christmas Eve, Mr. Baxter walks us through the history, literary and otherwise of his part of Paris.

The walks are sometimes literal--Mr. Baxter was tapped to replace a particularly dull tour guide for a small writer's gathering.  And sometimes they are metaphorical.  We meet mass murderers, thugs, and literary and artistic celebrities.  If there is one place that the book is lacking, it is in the world of music.  Surprisingly, there is little of it in the book, neither in the streets nor in the historical walks--perhaps not one of those things that Mr. Baxter has on the tip of his tongue.

For those who love Paris and w…

Literary Criticism--Collaborative Fiction

I came from the world of literary criticism.  Much of my original training was learning to read "texts" critically.  I studied the myriad schools and theories of criticism and, in that time, took them quite seriously.

With time, one gains perspective--being away from the fire of that intense intellectual crucible allows one the calm and cool use of reason in examining the claims of the various schools.  What I have come to conclude is that literary criticism is an elaborate and sometimes excruciating act of collaborative fiction.  Perhaps that isn't quite the right description--it is a fictional riff on an extant work--a reworking of the elements of the novel, poem, short story, or plan in the fashion of the critic rather than in the fashion of the artist.  It is both less and more than a secondary source.  At times it comes to resemble parody more than it does any analytic work.

Why do I refer to it as fiction?  A person (not the author) reads the work and creates from …

The Man from Primrose Lane--James Renner

James Renner has produced a couple of books of nonfiction before this, his first novel.  His skill is evident and the novel--a result, at least partially of his own wide reading and his own interest in crime writing is stunning.

For the first two thirds of the book we follow the story of David Neff, a writer for an indie newspaper, whose passion for the truth manifests in the investigation of a series of murders that had taken place several years previously in his native Northern Ohio.  (As a side note, it was a pleasure to read of towns and places that I know of but few have ever heard of--Ravenna, Canton, along with Akron, Kent, and Cleveland).  His researches lead directly to the trial of an additional perpetrator and may have indirectly precipitated his wife's death.

With the exception of two very odd interludes that presage the third section of the novel, all of this is told in a very straightforward, if fun, time hopping sort of way, with the recounting of a story propellin…

What "The People" Means

from "The People"
in China in Ten Words
Yu Hua

This was a key moment in my life. I had always assumed the light carried farther than human voices and voices carry farther than body heat. But that night I realized that it is not so, for when the people stand as one, their voices carry farther than light and their heat is carried farther still. That, I discovered, is what "the people" means.

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry--Kathleen Flinn

In a word, not to keep you in suspense, charming.  A memoir cum travelogue cum cookbook, Ms. Flinn tells the story of leaving corporate America and pursuing her dream of a degree from one of the most prestigious cooking schools in the world.

Ms. Flinn tells her adventures while attending all three courses at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris--basic, intermediate, and superior.  Along the way we learn about the Chefs, their moods, their modes, their recipes, their haunts.  We also learn a bit about Paris, a good deal about the school, and a great deal about Ms. Flinn, who sounds like a wonderful person--one both interesting and entertaining to be with.

Living in Paris Ms. Flinn plays host to any number of visitors--from one young man who bursts into her apartment to find the bathroom and spend much of the rest of his stay with her recovering from food poisoning picked up in London, to the visitation of two extremely trying young women who allow Kathleen and her husband to foot the bill for much…

House of Silk--Anthony Horowitz

Hmmm, I thought to myself as I glanced at the book, Anthony Horowitz, isn't he the author of a whole bunch of YA young spy kinds of things?  And here he is continuing the Sherlock Holmes Opus?

It's scary enough when great, well known writers of mystery decide to continue the opus--few of these are entirely successful--most are marginal.  And here is a person I know little--indeed next-to-nothing about presuming to tread on this sacred ground.

Well, I'm here to tell you that House of Silk is among the very finest continuations of the Holmes saga.  Perhaps a bit too much Elephants Can Remember, Sleeping Murder, or Curtain--but that's rather a matter of taste.  And to my taste, this was superb.  We start with a mysterious stranger, evidently a Boston thug threatening an Englishman who had only just recently returned from America--and we move on into murder, mayhem, opium dens, and conspiracy in high places to keep entirely hidden the secrets of the House of Silk of the ti…

2011 Reading in Review

Last Man in Tower--Aravind Adiga

One of the blurbs on the back of Mr. Adiga's latest book compares him with Charles Dickens--and perhaps this comparison is more apropos than might seem at first glance.  The White Tiger, Mr. Adiga's first book, won the Man Booker Prize the year it came out. It was a savage indictment of the current regime in India with a sharp look at the cost and benefits of "outsourcing."  One might think about it as the inside story of outsourcing.  Between the Assassinations, a kind of novel in short stories, I have not read.  This third work, is larger in volume and yet somewhat smaller in scope than either of the first two.

Mr. Adiga takes us into the lives of the residents of an apartment house that comes to the attention of a building constructor who wants to place on the site new luxury apartments.  The developer offers the people in towers A and B a princely sum for their houses.  Almost all of the residents want to take him up on it.  But there is a single hold-out--Maste…

Song at the Scaffold Gertrud von Le Fort

I have to admit that this short novel came as something of a disappointment.  Perhaps my expectations were set much too high by so many reviewers.

Ms. von Le Fort tells the story of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne--seventeen Carmelites who were executed just before the end of the Terror.  She tells the story from the point of view of one who, while desiring most of all martyrdom, is trapped in the martyrdom of the one who escaped.

Short, easy to read, but not at all what I expected from a book so highly praised.  It suggests that I need to go back and reread. Or perhaps better, return to the short opera by Fracois Poulenc which the work inspired--"Dialogue of the Carmelites."