The Hunger Games/Anatomy of a Revolution

I just finished reading The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, that very popular trio of young adult books by Suzanne Collins that are also being devoured by large numbers of adults. The citizens of Panem (which means bread) live in twelve districts ruled by one person, President Snow. This is a story of oppression and revolution. President Snow starves the people in the districts outside District One, each group getting successively hungrier until you get to the people in District Twelve who must scrape for a living. All citizens except those in District One can get rice and oil by registering to be chosen to compete in the Hunger Games held and televised once a year. The more times they register the more grain and oil they receive for their families, but the chances get greater that they will be chosen for the Hunger Games, a fight to the death between two “contestants” from each district. Katniss, our heroine, is not chosen for the Hunger Games but she volunteers to take the place of her sister, Prim. Katniss is a hunter who has hunted illegally outside the fence at District Twelve with her friend Gale. She is extremely skilled in the use of the bow and arrow which has helped her family by putting meat in their diet and which she is counting on to help her survive in the Hunger Games. But Katniss’s spirit is her greatest asset. She is compassionate and stubborn and a fighter all at the same time. As she learns more and more about the injustices that President Snow uses to control Panem she becomes more and more of a revolutionary simply by not doing what Snow expects her to do.

Suzanne Collins has not described a real place but she has a clear understanding of human societies and of how and why revolutions happen. She also captures the sort of classic trajectory of a revolution. I remember reading a book called Anatomy of a Revolution by Crane Brinton when I was in college. This is not a fiction book, it is an analysis by a historian of four revolutions in the real world: the British revolution of the 1640’s, the American Revolution, the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. This is a fairly scholarly book with none of the easy readability or appeal of the Hunger Games trilogy, but the similarities are striking and might even strike a few chords with our current political situation (which we may need to get a grip on).

This is the way Wikipedia summarizes Mr. Brinton’s ideas although I have condensed the text somewhat:
Fall of the old regime
The revolutions begin with problems in the pre-revolutionary regime. These include problems functioning — “government deficits, more than usual complaints over taxation, conspicuous governmental favoring of one set of economic interests over another, administrative entanglements and confusions”. There are also social problems, such as the feeling by some that careers are not “open to talents”, and economic power is separated from political power and social distinction
Financial problems play an important role, as “three of our four revolutions started among people who objected to certain taxes, who organized to protest them
The revolutions’ enemies and supporters disagree over whether plots and manipulation by revolutionists, or the corruption and tyranny of the old regime are responsible for the old regime’s fall. Brinton argues both are right, as both the right circumstances and active agitation are necessary for the revolution to succeed. (p. 85-6)
At some point in the first stages of the revolutions “there is a point where constituted authority is challenged by illegal acts of revolutionists” and the response of security forces is strikingly unsuccessful.
Revolutionary regimes
In each revolution a short “honeymoon” period follows the fall of the old regime, lasting until the “contradictory elements” among the victorious revolutionaries assert themselves
Moderates and dual power
The revolutions being studied first produce a “legal” moderate government. It vies with a more radical “illegal” government in a process known as “dual power“, or as Brinton prefers to call it “dual sovereignty”.
The radicals triumph because they are
·         “better organized, better staffed, better obeyed,” (p. 134)
·         have “relatively few responsibilities, while the legal government “has to shoulder some of the unpopularity of the government of the old regime” with “the worn-out machinery, the institutions of the old regime.” (p. 134)
·         The moderate are hindered by their hesitancy to change direction and fight back against the radical revolutionaries, “with whom they recently stood united,” in favor of conservatives, “against whom they have so recently risen.” (p. 140) They are drawn to the slogan `no enemies to the Left.` (p. 168)
·         are attacked on one side by “disgruntled but not yet silenced conservatives, and the confident, aggressive extremists,” on the other. The moderate revolutionary policies can please neither side.
·         are “poor” leaders of the wars which accompany the revolutions, unable to “provide the discipline, the enthusiasm,” needed. (p. 144)
Radicals and “Reigns of Terror and Virtue”
·         In contrast to the moderates, the radicals are aided by a fanatical devotion to their cause, discipline and (in recent revolutions) a study of technique of revolutionary action, obedience to their leadership, ability to ignore contradictions between their rhetoric and action, and drive boldly ahead. (p. 155-60) Even their small numbers are an advantage, giving them “the ability to move swiftly, to make clear and final decisions, to push through to a goal without regard for injured human dispositions.” (p. 154)
·         The radical reign is one of “Terror and Virtue.” Terror stemming from the abundance of summary executions, foreign and civil war, struggle for power; virtue in the form of puritanical “organized asceticism” and suppression of vices such as drunkenness, gambling and prostitution. (p. 180) In its ardor, revolutionary “tragicomedy” touches the average citizen, for whom “politics becomes as real, as pressing, as unavoidable … as food and drink,” their “job, and the weather.” (p. 177)
·         On taking power the radicals rule through dictatorship and “rough-and-ready centralization.”
At some point in these revolutions, the “process of transfer of power from Right to Left ceases,” and groups even more radical than those in power are suppressed. (p. 167
Along with centralization, lethal force in suppression of opposition, rule by committee, radical policies include the spreading of “the gospel of their revolution” to other countries
The radical reign of terror, or “crisis” period, is fairly soon replaced by Thermidor period, a period of relaxation from revolutionary policies or “convalescence” from the “fever” of radicalism
Lasting results
Brinton finds the lasting results of the revolutions disappointing
Brinton concludes that despite their ambitions, the political revolutions he studied brought much less lasting social changes than the disruptions and changes of “what is loosely called the Industrial Revolution“, and the top-down reforms of Mustapha Kemal’s reforms in Turkey, and the Meiji Restoration or post-World War II MacArthur era in Japan. (p. 246)

OK, that may be more than you wanted to know about revolutions, but the way Wikipedia summarizes the ideas of Crane Brinton is the way I remember the theory as we discussed it in those long ago days. Hunger Games is a story about revolution but the inhumane ways that Snow’s government keeps citizens under control by starving them, scaring them and exploiting them for entertainment adds a whole other level of organized wrongness to this particular culture, reminiscent of the short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, that makes us cheer for Katniss and Peeta and all of the other heroes who actually revolt against the tyranny that others have accepted for decades. Katniss also has the presence of mind to kill the person that Katniss perceives wants to be next in line with her ambition to become the new Panem dictator, President Coin, and thereby breaks the cycle of poor lasting results that Mr. Brinton says usually follow a revolution. For now the revolution has a happy ending, although the image of the children of our characters dancing in the meadow on top of a mass grave, may foreshadow a time in the future when there could once again arise a tyrant. George Orwell’s Animal Farm also reflects Brinton’s revolutionary trajectory.

Book List – March, 2012

Right now I am reading The Hunger Games and IQ84 and I just finished The Cat’s Table. If I have repeated any books in this list it doesn’t mean I recommend them any more highly, it just suggests I might be a tad disorganized, so I apologize in advance. Summaries or comments are from the library card catalogue. Most of my titles are courtesy of the independent booksellers book lists. So, in March, I add these titles to my ever-lengthening book list:
Watergate: A Novel by Thomas Mallon – “Thomas Mallon conveys the drama and high comedy of the Nixon Presidency…he turns a ‘third-rate burglary’ into a tumultuous, first-rate entertainment.
Raylan by Elmore Leonard – “It turns out all the bad guys Raylan is after are girls this time” – this is Federal Marshall Raylan Givens book
The Darlings by Cristina Alger – “A sophisticated page-turner about a wealthy NY family embroiled in a financial scandal with cataclysmic consequences.”
The Starboard Sea: A Novel by Amber Dermont – “a touching, beautiful, and deeply wise novel, a hymn to the bittersweet glories of youth… You will be enthralled.” “It is a powerful and provocative novel about a young man finding his moral center, trying to forgive himself, and accepting the gift of love.”
Victims by Jonathan Kellerman – “Unraveling the madness behind LA’s most baffling and brutal homicides is what sleuthing psychologist Alex does best.” The time we have a serial killer and Alex must find the link among the victims.
Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman – “From diary entries, social workers’ reports, half-recalled memories, arrest records, family lore, Supreme Court opinions, and her grandmother’s letters. Rory (Hendrix of the Calle de las Flores trailer park in Reno) crafts a devastating collage that shows us her world as she looks for a way out of it.”
History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason – “This is an opulent, romantic novel, written in the grand manner, set at the height of Europe’s belle époque, about a young, handsome man in his mid-twenties and his entry into a world of moneyed glamour and dangerous temptations.”
The Technologists: A Novel by Matthew Pearl – The first graduating class at MIT is thrown into turmoil by bizarre phenomena that cause instruments to inexplicably spin out of control, challenging enterprising students to protect lives while combating Harvard rivals.
Taken by Robert Crais – “a wealthy industrialist’s son was believed to have faked his own kidnapping” He didn’t. Cole and Pike set out to try to buy the son and his secret girlfriend back. Cole disappears and Pike must find all. – Thriller
I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella – Sophie writes “Chick Lit” that I always read. She’s a lively writer and her books read like a dream, very funny.
The Healing by Jonathan Odell – Amanda Satterfield’s husband, the master of a Mississippi plantation refuses to treat their daughter who is ill with cholera because he feels it is a “slave disease”. Amanda adopts a newborn slave child, names her Granada and raises her as her own. When Granada is grown she must relive her own story to help to heal a young girl abandoned to her care.
Pure by Julianna Baggott – “In a post-apocalyptic world, Pressia, a sixteen year old survivor with a doll’s head fused onto her left hand meets Partridge who is searching for his mother, sure she has survived the cataclysm.
The Shadow Patrol by Alex Berenson – He writes great thrillers – he’s a regular on my lists now.
The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon – “A novel about a woman who can’t speak, a man who is deaf, and a widow who finds herself suddenly caring for a newborn baby” (publisher)
This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman – an eighth grader who has just moved to NYC with his family (the Bergamots) forwards a sexually explicit video that is sent to him and the family must deal with what ensues
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton – “a spell-binding tale of mystery and self-discovery, The Forgotten Garden will take hold of your imagination and never let go”
The Illuminations by Kevin Brockmeier – “In the aftermath of a fatal car accident, a private journal of love notes written by a husband to his wife passes into the keeping of a hospital patient, and from there through the hands of five other suffering people, touching each of them uniquely.”
The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq – “Traces the experience of artist Jed Martin, who rises to international success as a portrait photographer before helping to solve a heinous crime that has lasting repercussions for his loved ones.”

The Great Society III: Two Books-Two Eras

In 1962 Michael Harrington wrote a book called The Other America which was published by Macmillan Publishing Company and was read by millions. Harrington wrote that the middle class and the poor once lived in the same neighborhoods, or in neighborhoods that were right next to each other. When those who were more successful financially began collecting together in suburban neighborhoods they left behind a group of poor people who had not prospered and who lacked the education or the skills to prosper. These people lived in what Harrington called “pockets of poverty” that stubbornly persisted and that became more and more invisible to everyone else. He said,
“Now the American city has been transformed. The poor still inhabit the miserable housing in the central area, but they are increasingly isolated from contact with, or sight of, anybody else. Middle-class women coming in from Suburbia on a rare trip may catch the merest glimpse of the other America on the way to an evening at the theater, but their children are segregated in suburban schools. The business or professional man may drive along the fringes of slums in a car or bus, but it is not an important experience to him. The failures, the unskilled, the disabled, the aged, and the minorities are right there, across the tracks where they have always been. But hardly anyone else is.
In short, the very development of the American city has removed poverty, from the living, emotional experience of millions upon millions of middle-class Americans. Living out in the suburbs it is easy to assume that ours is, indeed, an affluent society.
Michael Harrington continues by arguing that the move of the more affluent to the suburbs is not the only factor that makes poverty invisible. He says, “Clothes make the poor invisible too: America has the best-dressed poverty the world has ever know…It is easier in the United States to be decently dressed than it is to be decently housed, fed, or doctored. Even people with terribly depressed incomes can look prosperous.” He continues by saying, “Then many of the poor are the wrong age to be seen. A good number of them (over 8,000,000) are sixty-five years of age or better; an even larger number are under eighteen.” “And finally,” he says, “the poor are politically invisible. It is one of the cruelest ironies of social life in advanced countries that the dispossessed at the bottom of society are unable to speak for themselves. The people of the other America do not, by far and large, belong to unions, to fraternal organizations, or to political parties. They are without lobbies of their own; they put forward no legislative program. As a group, they are atomized. They have no face; they have no voice…
The first step toward the new poverty was taken when millions of people proved immune to progress. When that happened, the failure was not individual and personal, but a social product. But once the historic accident takes place, it begins to become a personal fate.
The new poor of the other America saw the rest of society move ahead. They went on living in depressed areas, and often they tended to be depressed human beings…
Indeed, one of the most important things about the new poverty is that it cannot be defined in simple, statistical terms. Throughout this book a crucial term is used: aspiration. If a group has internal vitality, a will – if it has aspiration – it may live in dilapidated housing, it may eat an inadequate diet, and it may suffer poverty, but it is not impoverished. So it was in those ethnic slums of the immigrants that played such a dramatic role in the unfolding of the American dream. The people found themselves in slums but they were not slum dwellers.
 But the new poverty is constructed so as to destroy aspiration; it is a system designed to be impervious to hope. The other America does not contain the adventurous seeking a new life and land. It is populated by the failures, by those driven from the land and bewildered by the city, by old people suddenly confronted with the torments of loneliness and poverty and by minorities facing a wall of prejudice.
Obviously I cannot quote the entire book, but you can catch Michael Harrington’s drift even from these few quotations. Whether it was the power of his descriptions or the fact that LBJ wanted to complete the Kennedy agenda, or, as some contend, because of LBJ’s  own agenda, resulting from his time in Texas near the Mexican border and his own observations about poverty, within two years of the publication of Harrington’s book LBJ had declared “War on Poverty” and started the huge legislative roll- out of “The Great Society”.
Now we have a new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray published by Crown Forum (Random House) in 2012. If Harrington’s The Other America was the “on” switch for the “Great Society, people are suggesting that Coming Apart may be the “off” switch because, if true, it wipes out any progress made as a result of the initiatives of “The Great Society” and provides ammunition for those who would wish to abandon the “War on Poverty”.
Robert J. Samuelson of the Washington Post reviewed Coming Apart on February 24, 2012. He says, “Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute…argues that today’s class separations threaten America’s very nature. On the one hand is a growing lower class characterized by insecure work, unstable families and more crime. On the other is a highly educated elite that dominates our commercial, political and nonprofit institutions but is increasingly isolated from the rest of America, particularly the lower class. Samuelson goes on to say, “Murray finds America’s evolving class structure threatening in two ways. First, it’s bad for the people involved. The lower class is less capable of caring for itself. The powerful elite is disconnected. Second, the new classes subvert social cohesion by weakening shared values that Murray calls America’s ‘founding virtues’—industriousness, commitment to marriage, honesty and religion.
Samuelson notes; “Murray is describing white America. In his main analysis, he omitted Latinos and African-Americans to debunk the notion that the country’s serious social problems are just the result of immigration or the stubborn legacy of slavery and racism.”
David Frum of The Daily Beast has written a comprehensive series of articles about the book Coming Apart. Frum finds the book flawed in a number of important ways. One section of his review is called “Social Science Minus the Science” First Mr. Frum says, “Despite all its perverse omissions and careless generalizations, Coming Apart deserves credit at least for this: It takes seriously the challenge of the reconstitution of America as a middle-class republic. At a time when many conservatives refuse to acknowledge the simple statistical fact of intensifying inequality, Murray has at least joined the discussion. Congratulations for that.”
But  Frum finds many problems with the book. First the author offers no solutions except a “civic Great Awakening” among the new upper class and a drastic reduction in the American welfare state. He quotes from Murray.
A man holding down a menial job and thereby supporting a wife and children is doing something authentically important with his life. He should take deep satisfaction from that, and be praised by his community for doing so. If the same man lives under a system that says the children of the woman he sleeps with will be taken care of whether or not he contributes, then the status goes away. I am not describing a theoretical outcome, but American neighborhoods where once, working at a menial job to provide for his family made a man proud and gave him status in his community, and where now it doesn’t. Taking the trouble out of life strips people of major ways in which human beings look back on their lives and say, ‘I made a difference”.
People are using this reasoning to justify their belief that the social programs of the 60’s and 70’s and even those from the 1930’s have not been effective, in fact they have undermined the American middle-class. Correlation does not, however prove causation. We could say that eating ice cream causes drowning because the incidence of both ice cream eating and drowning goes up in the summer, but this one is a no-brainer. We easily see the flaw. Since we are currently at the receiving end of a downturn in the economy and of a transition in the marketplace, we, the declining middle class, are feeling inexplicably that we may be to blame, that our joblessness is our fault, that our lack of optimism and, perhaps, our depressed state is something we did to ourselves. Mr. Murray also seems to suggest that this is true so he feeds right in to our vague feelings of guilt and not so vague feelings of personal failure. But there are so many factors that have played a part in this middle-class slide, such as globalization, technology in factories, technology in offices (almost no one has a secretary anymore), and even environmental concerns, catastrophes, and war. As Mr. Frum asks and as I would ask too, where is the proof that “government activity has caused…class disparities.” “Yet,” Frum continues, “at the end of the book, without ever suggesting any reason to believe that government is the problem, he insists that the reduction of government is the solution.”
This book is so popular and has raised so much fuss, not because of its rigorous scholarly approach to modern issues, but simply because it backs up the Republican agenda and suggests that it is time to turn the switch of government involvement in social issues to the “off” position. David Frum continues, “I found myself flipping from beginning to end of the book, punching searches into my Kindle, questioning whether I’d perhaps carelessly missed some crucial piece of evidence. But no. There is no evidence, not even an argument, just an after-the-fact assertion, pulled out of the hat. If we are going to use a scientific study to back up the kinds of damaging statements conservatives are making about so many Americans then we need a better source than this book.

Book List – February, 2012

We have not had a hibernation kind of winter like we usually do and so I haven’t spent as much time reading as I usually do. Everything is a trade-off. I suppose that is a good thing because it means I get out and about more often and it has been delightful not to have to shovel everyday and pile on layers of warm clothing. But cocooning is also nice and I’m sure in future winters I will get to do more of it. So here is my new list of books I want to read, with very little hope that I will finish all the titles on this list (or even my previous lists) any time soon.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, Reagan Arthur, “enchanting debut novel set in 1920’s Alaska”
The Fear Index by Robert Harris, (for the library catalog) “a visionary scientist creates a revolutionary form of artificial intelligence that predicts movements in the financial markets with uncanny accuracy, but someone is trying to destroy him.”
The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey, “Overcoming a life of hardship and loneliness, Gemma Hardy, a brilliant and determined young woman, accepts a position as an au pair on the remote Orkney Islands where she faces her biggest challenge yet.”
How It All Began by Penelope Lively, “The mugging of a retired schoolteacher on a London street has unexpected repercussions for her friends and neighbors when it inadvertently reveals an illicit love affair, leads to a business partnership and helps an immigrant reinvent his life.
Defending Jacob by William Landay, Andy Barber, a respected member of his community and happy at home with wife Laurie and son, Jacob is blindsided when his 14-year-old son is charged with murder of a fellow student.
Home Front by Kristin Hannah, an exploration of the price of war on a single American family
Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron, Rwandan runner Jean Patrick Nkuba dreams of winning an Olympic Gold Medal and uniting his ethnically divided country, only to be driven from everyone he loves when the violence starts, after which he must find a way back to a better life.
Death of Kings by Bernard Cornwall, this is the 6th volume in the Saxon Tales Series, an epic saga of England. I think I will look for volume 1 and start there. This sounds like a series I would enjoy. #1-The Last Kingdom, #2-The Pale Horseman, #3-The Lords of the North, #4-Sword Song, #5-The Burning Land, #6-Death of Kings
The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus, a chilling world where the speech of children is killing their parents – Esther’s parents, Sam and Claire, end up in a lab intent on creating non-lethal speech – when Sam discovers what is really going on in the lab he realizes he must reunite with his daughter.
The Odds: a love story by Stewart O’Nan, middle aged couple goes all in for love at a Niagara Falls casino when their home ends up in foreclosure and their marriage is on the brink of collapse.
Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston, woman stuck in dead-end relationship starts to travel compulsively “finding reasons to love life in far-flung places and ends up finding reasons to stay home”
American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar, Raised in the American Midwest the author shows readers vividly the powerful forces at work on young men and women growing up Muslim in America. His main character, Hayat is a young man who falls for his mother’s friend Mina inappropriately and with consequences.
Hope: a tragedy by Shalom Auslander, Relocating his family to an unremarkable rural town in NY in the hopes of starting over, Soloman Kugel must cope with his depressive mother, a local arsonist and the discovery of a believed-dead historical specimen in his attic.
A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson, follows a young woman’s search for the truth about who her mother really is.
Mr. G.: A Novel About Creation by Alan P. Lightman, the story of creation as narrated by God.
Ragnarok by A. S. Byatt, As the bombs rain down on Britain, one young girl is evacuated to the country side. Struggling to make sense of her new wartime life she is give a copy of Asgard and the Gods which transforms her life.
The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen by Thomas M Caplan, former soldier turned movie star turned spy – a breakneck parable of good and evil with writing that is elegant and powerful.
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, the epic story of a young man’s journey through the mysterious dictatorship of N. Korea
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Phillip Sendker, a poignant and inspirational love story set in Burma
West of Here by Jonathan Evison, the stories of people who first inhabited the mythical town of Port Bonita in Washington state from 1887-1891, and those who live there in 2005-2006 and must deal with the damage done by their predecessors
A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay, dark family secret revealed when brother takes sister to childhood vacation site and the repercussions of this secret. Also by the same author, The House I Loved, an ode to Paris, an old Paris woman stays to defend her home against Haussmann’s large scale renovations to the city she loves
Sister by Rosemond Lupton, a NY designer gets a frantic call in the middle of Sunday lunch telling her that her younger sister, art student Tess, is missing in London – framed as a letter from Beatrice to Tess the facts are slowly revealed to the reader
The House of Tyneford by Natasha Solomons, a young Jewish woman is forced to flee 1938 Vienna and becomes a parlor maid in England
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, everyone is talking about this book which has recently been made into a movie. It was written as a teen book, but is apparently a book that crosses the boundary between teen lit. and adult lit. This is actually a trilogy: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay.

My Coffee Table Books

I did an inventory of my coffee table books. I am still not sure that they have all been unpacked. I gave a few of them away and sold a few to a secondhand book store, so maybe I’m just missing some of the books I sold. I am supposed to be downsizing but I’m finding that I don’t really like to part with my stuff. Here’s what I found so far:

Chic Simple – Home, Kim Johnson Gross and Jeff Stone, 1993
Vineyard Summer, Allison Shaw, 1994
The Secret Gardens of the Vieux Carre: The Historic French Quarter of New Orleans, Roy F Guste Jr., 1993, (I wonder how these gardens look in 2011 and if some were ruined by Katrina?)
The Backyard Book: Ideas and Resources for Outdoor Living, Tricia Foley, Wm. P. Steele, Rachel Carley, Matthias G.-F. Mattiello, 1988
American Design: The Desert Southwest, Nora Burba, Paula Panich, Terrence Moore, 1987
Martha’s Vineyard: Gardens and Houses, Taylor Lewis, Catherine Fallin and Elizabeth Talbot, (I own two Vineyard books by accident, but both are lovely.)
Slipcover Chic: Designing and Sewing Elegant Slipcovers at Home, Michelle Bell, Catherine Revland and Carol Cooper Garey, (You actually could produce beautiful slipcovers by following the directions in this book.), 1992
The Living Planet: A Portrait of the Earth, David Attenborough, 1984
Life Magazine Special Edition, Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.: 40 Years Later, His Life and Crusade in Pictures, 2008
Our Green and Living World: The Wisdom to Save It, Ayensu, Heywood, Lucas, Defilipps, Smithsonian Institute, 1984
Paris, John Russell, 1983
Sister Wendy’s 1000 Masterpieces: Sister Wendy Beckett’s Selection of the Greatest Paintings in Western Art, (I asked my sister for this book for Christmas. I did not realize it was out of print. Somehow she found me a copy but I think she paid much more for it than we usually spend on gifts. It is a beautiful book and I treasure it.), 1999
A Day in the Life of America: photographed by 200 of the world’s leading photojournalists on one day (May 2, 1986), 1986
Small Treasures, Raymond Waites (I think this was a gift), 1992
The Art and Life of Georgia O’Keefe, Jan Garden Castro, 1985
Frame It!, the Vanessa-Ann Collection, (Crafts), 1993
Tassels: The Fanciful Embellishment, Nancy Welch, (Historical views and How-to’s), 1992
New House Book: The Complete Guide to Home Design, Terence Conran, 1985
Underground Interiors, Skurka and Gili, 1972
Decorative Printing for the Home: Creating Exciting Effects with Water-Based Paints, Lee Andre and David Lipe, 1966
Mon Tricot Knitting Dictionary: Stitches Patterns Knitting and Crochet, Aran Jacquard, open work and lace, stitiches, patchwork, shawl patterns, furs, woven crochet borders and edgings, fringe, fork, not dated, printed in France
The Art of Flower Arranging, Jan Hall, Sarah Waterkeyn, (gift), 1991
Life in Camelot: The Kennedy Years, Edited by Philip B Kunhardt, Jr., 1988
The Stencil Book: with over 30 stencils to cut out or trace, Amelia Saint George, 1988
Living in Morocco, Barbara & Rene Stoeltie, Angelika Taschen, 2003

Book List – January, 2012 – Books I Saw Around Town

I was wondering around Barnes and Noble the other day with a gift certificate I got for Christmas when I came across a great display of books that are ethnic or offbeat and are not on any of the lists I have recently consulted so I made a list of these interesting options and here it is, with the shelf notes:
The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tabor – a riveting, insightful tale of conspicuously consuming Americans and their Mexican servants in Orange County.
My Long Trip Home: a family memoir by Mark Whitaker – a deeply personal, instructive, and inspiring story of a life in a contemporary biracial American family.
The Dubious Salvation of Jacky: a novel by Jacques Strauss – the Irish Times called this sly darkly wry-toned novel “fresh, funny…unusually vivid and alive.”
Vaclan and Lena by Haley Tanner – the lives of two immigrant families from Russia converge in unexpected ways in this debut novel about love and magic.
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman – Harrison Opuku is just 11 years old, but when a London classmate is murdered, this recent immigrant decides to become a detective.
Child Wonder: a novel by Roy Jacobsen – a young Norwegian boy grapples with changes in his household that he can’t yet fully understand.
Precious Objects: A Story of Diamonds, Family and a way of Life by Alicia Oltuski – a talented journalist with unique family connections exposes the deep and secretive world of the US diamond industry.
The Family Tang: a novel by Kevin Wilson – the unwelcome reunion of two children with their performance artist parents becomes the catalyst for major life changes.
Lightning People: A Novel by Christopher Bollen – a tour-de-force that recalls The Great Gatsby…a canvas of love, loss and youth in New York.
[Sic]: A Memoir by Joshua Cody – the vivid unconventional memoir of a brilliant young composer’s winning battle against cancer.
The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad – a slender, densely nuanced novel set in the borderlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Shards by Ismet Prcic – a raucous kaleidoscope of a novel about the Bosnian War from both sides of the Atlantic.
Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion by Michael Levy – what happens when a New York school teacher joins the Peace Corps and travels to China.
The Disappeared by Kim Echlin – a fiercely beautiful love story for the ages (Canada and Cambodia).
Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante – (Lib. Cat) “Implicated in the murder of her best friend, Jennifer White, a brilliant retired surgeon with dementia struggles with fractured memories of their complex relationship and wonders if she actually committed the crimes.”
A Walk Across the Sun: a novel by Corban Addison (India) – (Lib. Cat.) “This story chronicles an unforgettable journey through the underworld of modern slavery and into the darkest and most resilient corners of the human heart.”
The Third Reich by Roberto Bolano – (Lib. Cat. paraphrase) Udo Berger becomes enmeshed in a round of Third Reich, his favorite WWII strategy game – Udo discovers that the game’s consequences may be all too real.
Locked On by Tom Clancy – Back with Jack Ryan and son and John Clark and terrorists – in the crosshairs
White Truffles in Winter by N. W. Kelby – (Lib. Cat.) About the life of French Chef Escoffier – “a novel of the sensuality of food and love amid a world on the verge of war.”
Assholes Finish First by Tucker Max – (Lib. Cat.)  “presents a new collection of alcohol-induced “fratire” (a made-up term combining fraternity and satire) adventures in hedonism that convey the author’s experience of being intoxicated at inappropriate times, seducing a ludicrous number of women and otherwise living in complete disregard of social norms.” (sounds like Hangover II, the print version)

Reprise – Science Fiction Book Lists

Have you earned your science fiction chops? Everyone needs the classical underpinnings of a good sci-fi reading background. It should include at least the following, although some of these authors have many more titles:
Robert Heinlein
·         Strangers in a Strange Land
·         Starship Troopers
·         The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
·         Time Enough for Love
Arthur C. Clarke
·         Childhood’s End
·         2001: A Space Odyssey
·         The Fountains of Paradise
·         The Light of Other Days
·         3001: The Final Odyssey
Ray Bradbury
·         Fahrenheit 451
·         Something Wicked This Way Comes
·         The Martian Chronicles
·         The Illustrated Man
·         The October Country
·         Death is a Lonely Business
Isaac Asimov
·         Foundation Books (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation
·         I Robot
·         The End of Eternity
·         The Robots of Dawn
Kurt Vonnegut
·         Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel
·         Cat’s Cradle: A Novel
·         Mother Night: A Novel
·         Breakfast of Champions: A Novel
·         The Sirens of Titan: A Novel
Douglas Adams
·         The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
·         Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
·         The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul
·         The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time
·         The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
·         Life, the Universe, and Everything
·         Mostly Harmless
·         So Long and Thanks for all the Fish
Frank Herbert
·         Dune
·         Dune Messiah
·         The Dosadi Experiment
·         Destination Void
·         Children of Dune
·         God Emperor of Dune
·         Heretics of Dune
·         Chapterhouse Dune
Aldous Huxley
·         Brave New World
·         The Doors of Perception: Heaven and Hell
·         Eyeless in Gaza: A Novel
George Orwell
·         1984
·         Animal Farm (not really sci-fi, more political allegory)
You could then branch into fantasy like Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” books (I think there are 12 so far, Harry Potter sort of fits in here also. Perhaps the Carlos Castenades “Don Juan” books, the “Star Wars” books, and the “Star Trek” books might also make the list.
These books help define where our future will go. Do books predict the future or create the future? It doesn’t matter. If you have a great sci-fi background you will be there. These books are mind-expanding, like algebra. OK, maybe you don’t like algebra, but algebra is brain training. It sets up certain pathways in your brain that you might not develop from any other discipline (although geometry also helps, and physics). In terms of helping with logical thinking I don’t think there is a more powerful tool than mathematics.
If you don’t read these books you will also fall behind the cultural curve. Certain allusions will elude you. Who are the Aes Sedai? What is a space elevator? Who is Trillium? What are suspensor chairs? It will just go on and on, the number of potentially important things you will not know.
Here is the rest of my sci-fi “hits” list.
Carlos Castenades – becoming a “warrior”
·         The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
·         A Separate Reality:  Further Conversations with Don Juan
·         Journey to Ixtlan:  The Lessons of Don Juan
·         Tales of Power
·         Second Ring of Power
·         The Eagle’s Gift
·         The Fire from Within
·         The Power of Silence:  Further Lessons of Don Juan
·         The Art of Dreaming
Kim Stanley Robinson
·         Red Mars
·         Green Mars
·         Blue Mars
J. K. Rowling
·         Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
·         The Chamber of Secrets
·         The Prisoner of Azkaban
·         The Goblet of Fire
·         The Order of the Phoenix
·         The Half Blood Prince
·         The Deathly Hallows
Margaret L’Engle
·         A Wrinkle in Time
·         A Wind in the Door
·         Many Waters
·         A Swiftly Tilting Plane

December Book List – 2011

Once again I went to the independent booksellers and the librarians to make my selections. I also looked in the two book clubs, Literary Guild and Book of the Month Club to see if there were any great finds. This is not an exhaustive list of great new books. I only list the books that I plan to read.
11/22/63 by Stephen King – an English teacher and his friend who runs the local diner travel through a portal to 1958 to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination.
The Drop by Michael Connelly – a cold case intertwines with a current murder of a city councilman’s son
The Litigators by John Grisham – it’s John Grisham
The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco – I usually read anything by Umberto Eco but am not sure about this one. It sounds like heavy going and apparently contains some problematic lapses in political correctness. This is a maybe.
The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon – This is the newest of a series of books I have followed.
The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly – Lawyer Mickey Haller must defend a client (Lisa Trammel) accused of killing a banker who defaulted on her mortgage.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – this book, established as a modern classic “will enchant and inspire readers for generations to come. (I might have to give Mr. Coelho another try.)
The Charming Quirks of Others by Alexander McCall Smith – A Louise Dahousie book – always charming
The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards – a woman’s family history gets revised by her discovery of some historical family objects – “every element emerges as a carefully placed piece of the puzzle”
The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen – two sisters, Twiss and Milly, now elderly, live lost in memories and tending to injured birds
Zero Day by David Balducci – a chilling “what if” scenario
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley – a Flavia de Luce mystery
The Time in Between by Maria Duenas – the story of a seamstress who becomes the most sought after couturiere during the Spanish Civil War and World War II
The Sisters by Nancy Jensen – two sisters in Kentucky in the 20’s – good intentions – bad decision –how this affects 3 generations of women
The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin – mystery in a police force
Delicacy by David Foenkinos – love, grief, then love again in Paris (out Feb., 2012), “
We the Animals by Justin Torres – follows three brothers as they make their way through an ever-changing, and sometimes turbulent childhood that puts a new twist on the coming-of-age tale
Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga – an Indian man refuses to sell his high rise apartment to developers
Sunset Park by Paul Austin (back in Brooklyn) – NY native Miles Heller (female) flees to Brooklyn and shacks up with a group of artists squatting in the Sunset Park neighborhood

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More Christmas Book Possibilities

Again, in time for Christmas, The Daily Beast published 10 Books You Might Have Missed But Shouldn’t. There were a number of interesting suggestions on this list, so even though some are on my radar already I copied the entire list to save.
1.       A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil   MacGregor
2.       Habibi by Craig Thompson
3.       A Book of Secrets by Michael Holroyd
4.       Assassins of the Turquoise Palace by Roya Hakakian
5.       What It Is like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes
6.       Hemingway’s Boat: everything he loved in life and lost by Paul Hendrickson
7.       Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar
8.       Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest by Wade Davis
9.       Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
10.     Keynes Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics by Nicholas Wapshott

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Book List – November, 2011

I find most of the books I think I will want to read on, the site of the independent booksellers. I can’t seem to stop making new book lists for myself even though I am still working on my July book list. Someday when I don’t have a life, I will catch up (maybe).
The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen – since the success of Steig Larsson a lot of Scandanavian writers are being translated to English. Jussie Adler-Olsen is Denmark’s premier crime writer. After nearly being killed and losing two colleagues Carl Morck is given a new office in the basement and assigned cold cases in “Department Q”. One of his cold cases “comes to life” and makes his life quite interesting.
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan – “In the future abortion has become a crime as a series of events threatens the United States. One woman wakes up to discover that her skin color has been changed to red as a punishment for having the procedure done. Now she must embark on a dangerous journey in order to find refuge from a hostile and threatening society,” according to the library catalog.
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka presents the stories of six Japanese mail-order brides whose new lives in early 20th century San Francisco are marked by backbreaking migrant work, cultural struggles, children who reject their heritage, and the prospect of wartime internment.
The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright is the story of Gina Moynihan, living in a suburb of Dublin who recalls the trail of lust and happenstance that brought her to fall for the “love of her life”, Sean Vallely. On a snowy day Gina waits for Sean’s 12-year-old daughter.  “This is Enright’s tour de force, a novel of intelligence, passion and distinction.
The Sixth Man by David Baldacci – “After the lawyer of institutionalized serial killer Edgar Roy ends up dead, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell must figure out whether Roy is really a killer or if other evil is afoot.”
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin – Two boys of different classes and different races have a friendship until the richer boy is suspected of murdering someone he was dating. The suspicions break up the friendship. After more than 20 years they cross paths again. When another girl disappears these two must confront their past.
The tower, the zoo, and the tortoise by Julia Stuart – The queen decides to house her menagerie of gifted pets in the Tower of London which has fallen on hard times. Caring for these animals changes everything for the human residents of the Tower. “This secret romp will appeal to history buffs,” says Kirkus Review.
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami [Jay Rubin, Philip Gabriel, translators] “Murakami is like a magician who explains what he’s doing as he performs the trick and still makes you believe he has supernatural powers…But while anyone can tell a story that resembles a dream, it’s the rare artist who can make us feel that we are dreaming it ourselves.” The NYT’s Book Review. The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo- the lives of two people gradually converge – surreal.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is another book by Haruki Murakami.
The following are new books by writers I follow along with one nonfiction book about a person who interests me.
Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich
V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton
Coco Chanel by Lisa Chaney
The Litigators by John Grisham
The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje – “wonderful new novel”
The Dove Keepers by Alice Hoffman _ set in ancient Israel
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny says the library card catalog is a “brilliantly evocative mystery with Chief Inspector Armand Gomache of the Montreal police.
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller – set in Moscow in the early 2000’s – this is a man’s confession to his fiancé – here we have one man, two willowy Russian girls, seduction and sin – “featuring characters whose hearts are as cold as the Russian winter. This one has mixed reviews.
The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst – Library Review says “On the eve of WW I, Cecil, a wildly attractive and promising young poet, pays a visit to the home of his Cambridge boyfriend, the son of one of England’s oldest families. He memorializes the visit with a poem that becomes famous after his wartime death. The poem, created as an autograph book keepsake for his lover’s younger sister, Daphne, becomes the subject of speculation and debate for biographers and the generations that follow, as it contains hints about what might have happened during the visit and with whom. This generously paced, thoroughly satisfying novel will gladden the hearts of Anglophile readers.”
Snuff by Terry Pratchett – At long last, Lady Sybil has lured her husband, Sam Vimes, on a well-deserved holiday away from the crime and grime of Ankh-Morpork. But for the commander of the City Watch, a vacation in the country is anything but relaxing. Yet a policeman will find a crime anywhere if he decides to look hard enough. (Library Card Catalog)
Nanjing requiem by Ha Jin – During the 1937 attack on Nanjing, American missionary and women’s college dean Minnie Vautrin decides to remain at her school during a violent Japanese attack that renders the school a refugee center for ten thousand women and children.

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