Tuesday, September 17, 2019


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No Curtain Call, Alice Zogg, Aventine Press, 2019, 200 pp
This is the latest mystery by my self-publishing friend Alice Zogg. It is her 14th book! She has recently left her series character who featured in the first 10 books and her last four have been stand-alones set in and around Los Angeles. 
Retired sheriff's department lieutenant Nick Fox is trying to make a new life for himself after being nearly blown to bits during his police work. An old friend asks Nick to investigate the death of his high school age son.

The case is three and a half years cold, having been written off as a suicide. The thing is, the boy died from an opioid overdose and no one had ever seen him even drink let alone use drugs.

The other thing is Jim Hoang was a high achiever at the elite Citadel High School who had performed his first role in the school musical but died on stage during the final curtain call. His parents believe he was murdered.

Nick Fox knows how to conduct an investigation and most of the potential suspects are drama students from Citadel. Having recently read Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, also set in an elite high school with an emphasis on the performing arts, I must admire how well Alice Zogg drew her characters with all their teenage drama on and off the stage.

This author never lets me figure out who done it until her investigator does. As always she continues to outdo her earlier books with ever tighter plots and deeper looks into the characters. She is proof of the maxim that one can teach oneself to write simply by writing. Since I know her personally I know that she writes these books for her own enjoyment and from her own drive to create them.

I do enjoy a mystery I can read in one day!

Sunday, September 15, 2019


Star Watchman, Ben Bova, ACE Books, 1964, 217 pp
Many years ago I read Mars by Ben Bova, liked it, and decided to put the author on my Big Fat Reading Project lists. I thought that Star Watchman was his first book. Now I have found out it was his second and his first is either out of print or hard to find. So I am starting with this one and going on from here.
The human race has expanded into space and built an interstellar empire by taking over from an ancient alien race known as "the Others," a barbaric and ruthless sort who are still around with designs to recover their power. 

Star Watch Junior Officer Emil Vorgens has been dispatched to investigate an uprising on Shinar, a relatively minor planet. He is rather out of his depth on his first mission and must man up, defy Earth's military leader on Shinar, and try to prevent an all out major war with the Others.

This was an entertaining story complete with three opposing forces: Earth, the Others and a revolutionary band of Shinar inhabitants. Vorgens uses his wits, his courage and his commitment to the role of Watchman to resolve the situation.

In Ben Bova's introduction to the edition I read, he says, "The problems of colonial wars...where major powers fight 'minor' wars in some Third World country were uppermost in my mind as I wrote Star Watchman." Those minor wars in the early 1960s were France in Algeria and the US in Vietnam.

Thus I found Bova's ideas about a better way for those two countries to handle such conflicts, as he portrayed those ideas in his story, quite interesting and applicable even to today's conflicts around the world.

Bova has written scads of books, won 6 Hugo awards and is still going with his latest book Earth just released this past July. I look forward to reading more.

If you have read Bova, which have been your favorite books?

Friday, September 13, 2019


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Gain, Richard Powers, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1998, 408pp
Continuing my reading of Richard Powers novels in reverse publication order. Seven read and five to go.
I was worried I would dislike Gain because one of the main characters has cancer, ovarian to be exact. I get squeamish reading "cancer novels" and I did in this one too. However, in classic Powers style, he ties her story in with the carcinogenic impact of toxic waste produced by the cosmetics factory of a huge American company located in this woman's town.

Clare & Company, started by three brothers as a soap manufacturing concern in 19th century Boston, grew into an international consumer products conglomerate (think Proctor & Gamble.) Tracing the growth of this business gives Powers the opportunity to present a history of capitalist business practice in America. 

Most of the financial shenanigans went over my head but the rest of it was fascinating as it traces the incredible growth of just about everything in America over three centuries, showing how we got from then to now. Makes your head spin.

I happen to be one who fully believes that the malignant rise of cancer in the world is a direct result of the radiation and chemicals we spew into the environment. That is a downside of all that industrial growth and our luxurious way of life. Don't get me started on the epic fail of medicine to find an even somewhat humanitarian way to treat this scourge. (My apologies to those who have successfully survived the disease.)

Now I find myself reading all the labels on my soaps, cleaners and cosmetic products even more obsessively than I did before.

Once again, Richard Powers took a scenario from which we suffer while we benefit, focused it on the personal human level, and forced me to learn much more than I knew before. Gain is a link from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring to the world we have today.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019


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Lost Children Archive, Valeria Luiselli, Alfred A Knopf, 2019, 375 pp
Another one of the best books I have read this year. This is an utterly down-to-earth while at the same time enchanting novel. Luiselli tells the stories of a "found" family; of children lost while emigrating to America from Central America; of one woman's obsession with those lost children; and of two special children who tie it all together.
A man and a woman, both single parents, meet while working together to document the sounds and diverse peoples of New York City. They fall in love and make a family with the woman's daughter and the man's son. Their lives are happy for several years.

When the adults find their interests and paths diverging they set out for Arizona where the man wants to document lost Apaches. The woman hopes she can find the missing immigrant children of a New York friend and still preserve her marriage. The two children are closer than many natural siblings.

Will this "family" come unhinged due to the parents growing apart? Their weeks long trip across the country by automobile is a process of disintegration for the parents while the children sense with a growing awareness that the parents might not stay together. The boy invents a heroic quest to save his family and reintegrate his parents. Though this section of the book dragged a bit for me it was livened up by all the details of their days and reminded me of the road trips my family made every summer when I was young.
Luiselli structures her story using intricate methods that parallel the puzzles of family, Native American genocide and the current immigration crisis. She begins quietly in New York, meanders through the road trip section, then explodes into the final section with a change of narrator and a bit of magical realism.
I would say the risks in Lost Children Archive are as high for the reader as they are for the characters. If you make it all the way you will be rewarded with a tragic but magical finish that will blow your mind and stir your heart.

Monday, September 09, 2019


Reading groups are few this month and I have already read The Alice Network. That is fine because there are so many great books releasing lately that all I want to do is read what I want to read. Even so, I am always glad to see my reader friends in real life!

One Book At A Time:
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Carol's Group:
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Bookie Babes:
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So, female spies, humans vs animals, and a psychological thriller. Sounds pretty good.
Have you read and/or discussed any of these? What are your groups discussing this month?

Sunday, September 08, 2019


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Memories of the Future, Siri Hustvedt, Simon & Schuster, 2019, 315 pp
This is the fourth Siri Hustvedt novel I have read. It sounds hyperbolic but I pretty much worship this author for her intelligence and her well formed feminist views. My top two favorites are What I Loved and The Blazing World. I think Memories of the Future is her most tricky and complex novel yet and don't expect everyone to like it. In fact, possibly many readers I know would not like it at all.
What she has done is created a fictional memoir. In the process she examines memory, the female in the arts, a #MeToo incident, and the power of imagination, anger and rebellion to lead a woman to freedom despite all.

Since I am trying, and mostly failing, to write an account of my own life, I found gems in Hustvedt's novel as to how it can be done. I have thought of taking a class in memoir writing but have a horror of someone else telling me how to do it before I have made all my own mistakes first.

I have been reading through a self-created syllabus of actual memoirs and autobiographies. Each time I read one I am given illuminations. Probably not the most efficient way to go about getting the project done but I learn the most about writing by reading.

Here in Siri Hustvedt's ficitonal memoir is another clue: writing memoir is a dialogue among one's various selves over the decades. I was beginning to realize that on my own but I got a brilliant example of how to do it.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019


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Stone Upon Stone, Wieslaw Mysliwski, Archipelago Books, 2010, 534 pp (originally published in Poland, 1999, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston)
"Stone upon stone
On stone a stone
And on that stone
Another stone" 
-from a folk song

This book was my translated novel for the month. It has sat on my shelves for almost a decade and I kept putting off reading it because it is so long. It turned out to be a mixed blessing.

First of all, it took me 10 days to read, during which I got several wonderful naps. The title comes from the folk song quoted above. Polish peasants, people who have farmed grain and raised animals for centuries upon centuries, are now dealing with rapid change after WWII has left their ancient country under communist rule.

The pace of life went at the speed evoked in the song. A peasant son narrates his life story. I don't know if it is a Polish thing but he and everyone else in the book go on and on, so many words. Like a cow chewing cud, they ruminate about their thoughts, tell tales, and give each other advice.

Gradually I became immersed in a world that only moves as fast as a day from sunrise to sunset, a year from planting to harvest to cold long winter to spring planting again. I moved into the head and heart of a man who rebelled and fought against the tyranny of his father, the monotony of peasant life, the oppression of military invasion, but never lost his sense of himself or became beaten down.

The translation is wonderful. It sings, it sounds modern and almost serves as a metaphor for the wrenching changes these people were put through. The underlying wisdom of such simple folk, derived from their intimate connection with the land and its cycles of life, comes rising up out of all those words. 
Like the overwhelming majority of reviews I read, I too ended up loving the book, feeling a transcendence as regards the extremes of which human life is composed. I do not regret one second of the time I spent reading what is a masterpiece of an epic. Life is a mixed blessing.

"Stone upon stone
On stone a stone
And on that stone
Another stone"

Sunday, September 01, 2019


August was a tough month for reading in my world. I am a Leo but this year my sun sign let me down. What with a long translated, though wonderful, book that took me ten days to read as well as my husband's health crisis during which I could not concentrate on a book, I fell behind. During those days he was in hospital all I could do was talk to my sister, my sister-in-law, and my girlfriends on the phone and watch the first season of Orange is the New Black (nicely distracting.) I don't ever get to be a drama queen and I am quite tired of the role. Here is to a better September when my Virgo moon and rising will stabilize the world for me.

Stats: 9 books read. 5 by women. 1 psychological thriller. 1 memoir. 1 translated. 2 for My Big Fat Reading Project. 1 Sci Fi. 1 mystery.

Where I went: I stayed in the USA except for one book set in Poland.

Authors new to me: A J Finn, Dani Shapiro, Wieslaw Mysliwski.
Favorites: Stone Upon Stone, Lost Children Archive
Least favorites: The Woman in the Window, Inheritance

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Have you read any of these? What were your favorite reads in August?

Saturday, August 31, 2019


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Inheritance, Dani Shapiro, Alfred A Knopf, 2019, 252 pp
Partial Summary From Goodreads: 
The acclaimed and beloved author of Hourglass now gives us a new memoir about identity, paternity, and family secrets—a real-time exploration of the staggering discovery she recently made about her father, and her struggle to piece together the hidden story of her own life.
In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had whimsically submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her father was not her biological father. She woke up one morning and her entire history—the life she had lived—crumbled beneath her.
My Review:
I was not as blown away by this memoir as most readers seem to have been. It was my first time reading Dani Shapiro and I don't guess we have much in common as far as worldview and emotional concerns go. That is alright. It happens to me with real live people I meet as well.
I was fascinated to learn some history about artificial insemination. In the 1950s it was as messed up as any other aspect of reproduction, sex, and the effects of all that on women. Dani Shapiro's mother, as portrayed in the book, made me think of the wife in John Williams's Stoner.
The more fraught subject for me is the intersection of genealogy, genetic engineering and eugenics. Richard Powers took that on in his 2009 novel Generosity. I just don't trust the human race and our science in a world that still has atomic arsenals, active White Supremacists and Fascism, to do anything but harm with genetic engineering.
Aside from the writing, which I found a bit weak and sometimes overwrought, Dani Shapiro did enlist my sympathies as she described her childhood, her deep feelings of not fitting in to her Jewish family, and her confusions about her relationship with her father. I could not predict how I would have reacted to the news she got or how I would have dealt with it.
Thus the book was not a waste of my reading time. It left me with empathy for people in my life who had to search for their birth parents. I used to feel so out of place in my family while growing up that I wondered if I had been adopted and they just hadn't told me yet.   

Thursday, August 29, 2019


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The Wapshot Scandal, John Cheever, Harper & Row, 1964, 302 pp
(Well, I am back. My husband, who has always been lucky, has recovered well. We have adjusted to a new normal involving a few tweaks on our lifestyle. Honestly, I think it took me longer to recover from all the worry and stress than it took him to recover from what happened to his body. It could have been so much worse and I am filled with gratitude to whoever or whatever watches over us.)
The Wapshot Scandal was John Cheever's follow up novel to his National Book Award winner, The Wapshot Chronicle. I truly enjoyed the earlier novel. This one still had a sort of humor but was darker. It is set in contemporary early 1960s New England, several decades later than the end of the former novel. Life has become more troubled even though prosperity has been brought by the postwar boom.
The Cold War, the threat of nuclear annihilation, hangs like a miasma of anxiety over the two Wapshot brothers. It festers as a deep ennui for their wives. The matriarchal great-aunt of the Wapshot family, whom the brothers are counting on for a large inheritance, failed to pay her income tax and stands to lose her fortune to the IRS.
I think Cheever did nail the underlying zeitgeist of the times. Though the Wapshots were always a bit outside the laws and conventions of their late 19th and early 20th century New England society, these brothers and their wives are stuck between an unthinkable future and the realities of their present. The wives want passion, freedom and a purpose. The men don't seem to know what they want.
Cheever writes in a readable style and it is impossible not to be drawn in. I remember my parents and their friends discussing the state of the world and society when I was in high school. Cheever brings those same issues to life through his characters, their anxieties and actions. His story is grim at times but also made me laugh while I groaned.

I left for college and adult life in 1965, determined to get what those wives wanted, to stop war and the bomb, to find the purpose of my life. In this novel, I found yet another conception of what I left behind.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


This past Sunday, which was my birthday, my husband began to have alarming symptoms. I took him to the Emergency room at the hospital. Because he is a private sort of guy, I am not at liberty to say what it was, but it was fairly serious. He was in the hospital from Sunday to yesterday. He is now home and seems to be fine but we are both shaken and I have been absent from my normal life.

So I may be absent from the blog for a few more days. Just wanted to let you, my regular followers know why I have not been posting or visiting your blogs this week. 

I'll be back as soon as I can.

Saturday, August 17, 2019


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Trust Exercise, Susan Choi, Henry Holt and Company, 2019, 212 pp

Reading Susan Choi for me is always a trust exercise but I have yet to lose my faith in her. I have learned that she rarely goes where I think she is going. Her theme in the novels I have read before (A Person of Interest and My Education), as well as in this one, is self-perception and self-preservation. It is no wonder that radical shifts take place as a hallmark of her fiction.

The title of this novel comes from a training step for acting students in a performing arts high school located in an unnamed southern American city. It is a doozy of a drill created by a drama teacher who turns out to be an untrustworthy fellow. He is that kind of charismatic personality that suckers the impressionable to follow him blindly and eagerly.

I agree with other reviewers on the inadvisability of revealing much about the plot. Susan Choi manages two complete turn-abouts in the course of the story, so disorienting that at first I had no idea what was going on. She did not lose me though.

I think that is why I am such a fan. Despite a sort of reader's whiplash I never suffer any permanent injury. In fact, I have felt great at the end of all three novels while being highly aware of having been emotionally and intellectually challenged almost beyond my tolerance. This is what I look for in books.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019


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My Sunshine Away, M O Walsh, G P Putnam's Sons, 2015, 303 pp
Sometimes when I meet a new person who finds out that I love to read, I am given a book or books by that person. Then I feel somewhat obligated to read the book. In that way this novel came to me. I did not know anything about it except for the cover flap summary.
This debut novel was not bad, neither was it great. Set in the summer of 1989 in a white privileged neighborhood of Baton Rouge, a 15-year-old girl is raped. Lindy Simpson is the belle of the neighborhood and a boy across the street (who narrates the story) has a hopeless crush on her.

This boy, along with three other males in the area, becomes a suspect. As usual in these cases, the police fail to identify or charge any culprit. For about 300 pages, I lived inside this boy's head, gradually learning about his life, Lindy's life and his obsession with her.

He was not the rapist (not a spoiler, you know this soon enough) but he feels guilty for reasons his teenage mind does not understand though he figures it has something to do with how he had lusted after this beautiful, free-spirited track star of a female since he was in middle school. He knows little about romantic love, he knows plenty about his own and other boys' sexual desires, he has some truly messed up male friends. Eventually he becomes a sort of friend of Lindy's, but she of course has changed, is depressed and becomes pretty weird herself.

I was uncomfortable with this boy's actions and attitudes. What he feels toward Lindy is almost completely about him. I was lucky in high school. I had a steady boyfriend for three years and we loved each other, or at least we thought we did. It is true that in the end I felt he didn't really get me and we broke up after graduating, but it was never weird.

So I suppose, well actually I know, there are boys who mostly just want sex and will do anything to get it. Later in the book, the narrator figures himself out, grows up, marries another woman and is happy.

Since M O Walsh is male and grew up in Baton Rouge, I assume he knew what he wrote about, but it seemed somehow a little off to me. Something was missing, something did not quite add up. I think he was trying to discover the fine line between lust and love, but I was not convinced that he pulled it off.

Sunday, August 11, 2019


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Chimes of a Lost Cathedral, Janet Fitch, Little Brown and Company, 2019, 730 pp

This is the second volume of the story begun in The Revolution of Marina M, one of my favorite books of 2017. I loved both books so much. What Janet Fitch has done in these books is to show the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the first few years of Russian communism, disaster and terror through the life of an impetuous, passionate, idealistic young woman who is also an emerging poet.

Marina's Russian soul led her into all the tumult of 1917 but her energy and spirit carried her through those confusing times. Chimes of a Lost Cathedral picks up right where the first book left off. If you have not read the first volume, I dare not cover the plot of this second one because anything I wrote would be full of spoilers.

Chimes finds Marina in more dire circumstances than ever. Her previous choices have caught up with her and to an extent she is trapped. Her fiery refusal to ever be a victim paradoxically brings on the very worst losses and heartbreaks of her short life. Chimes is a darker story of the consequences of revolution, especially for women and children.

Still, the poets and writers loom large as well as the clashes between idealists and "practical" politicians. Even as she matures Marina's heroism and lusty approach to life makes for a breathtaking finish. 

These two books are long in the good way that long books take you through sweeping changes and immerse you in their worlds. If you have liked Pachinko, The Sympathizer, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, The Big Green Tent or The Nix, you will love The Revolution of Marina M and Chimes of a Lost Cathedral.

Thursday, August 08, 2019


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White Teeth, Zadie Smith, Random House Inc, 2000, 448 pp
I first read this debut novel by Zadie Smith in 2012. I reread it this time for a reading group. Here is what I thought about it after the first read:
If literary fiction could always, or at least more often, be as good as this...well, I guess I would be an even more voracious reader than I am. I decided to read White Teeth before I jumped into NW because I read somewhere that both books are set in the same neighborhood of Northwest London. I have not felt as satisfied as I did while reading White Teeth in quite a while--well except for two weeks earlier when I read Telegraph Avenue.
In fact the two books have some parallels. Both throw together families of varying backgrounds who are joined together by a friendship between two men. Both are grounded in a neighborhood and poke around into what makes people the way they are.
I have only been to London once when I was a teen, but I could see, even smell, the setting of this book. I think watching movies helps, but the descriptions put me there, in the streets, in the apartments, restaurants, bars, and schools.
Working class Archie Jones and Bangladeshi Samad Iqbal have been friends since fighting together in World War II, when one saved the other's life. Samad lost the use of one hand and Archie has a piece of metal forever in his thigh. Archie's second wife Clara is the daughter of a Jamaican immigrant who is a devout Jehovah's Witness. Samad's wife came to him via an arranged marriage in the Deshi community. Each man in his own way is bewildered by his offspring as well as by his wife, not to mention the pace of life in the last decade of the century and the millennium. 
Smith uses multiple viewpoints and various bits of history which she calls "root canals" to build the intertwining strands of three families. The children of Archie and Samad get tangled up with a middle class English family, the Chalfens: progressive, liberal, educated idiots with their beliefs in science, psychology and enlightened parenting. 
They all have white teeth. The each want love, a better life, a belief in something beyond themselves. That sounds serious but they ricochet off each other in the most comic ways. White Teeth is a comedy show and a reality show resting on a keen awareness and observance of the multicultural lives we now lead.
Though Zadie Smith takes her time developing the stories of these characters, she begins right off with a sense of tension, maintaining it at a disturbing steadily intensifying rate until the final explosion. Really, I had no idea where she was taking me but went willingly only to have it brought home to me that these root canals are reproduced in every generation.
"But first the endgames. Because it seems no matter what you think of them, they must be played, even if, like the independence of India or Jamaica, like the signing of peace treaties or the docking of passenger boats, the end is simply the beginning of an even longer story."
As you can see, I was impressed on that first reading. It turns out I remembered it well but rereading was worth the time spent. 
1) I got just as much enjoyment but I understood the ending much better. I was able to see how she accomplished a perfect knitting together and tying up of the multiple threads the story contains.
2) For the other reading group members who struggled with it, some not even finishing it, all of whom pretty thoroughly disliked it, I could sympathize. It is not a novel for everyone though it has all of humanity in it: colonizers, colonized, immigrants, mixed cultures and religions, the privileged, the underprivileged, the old and the young.
Perhaps Zadie Smith, like many novelists, tried to put everything in her head into her debut. Still, it got the attention of the literary world and she is having a great career.

Monday, August 05, 2019


Here we go! Another month and another 5 reading group meetings. Last month One Book At A Time did not meet for various reasons so we will discuss The House of the Broken Angels in August. I am looking forward to all the discussions and the variety of books is vast!

Tina's Group:
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Bookie Babes:
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Have you read any of these books and/or discussed them in a reading group? What will you be discussing this month?

Thursday, August 01, 2019


July seemed to go on forever but I made good use of the time for reading! Many genres, many locations, stories, stories, stories. Still a bit behind on reviews but I am more caught up than I have been all year. A mixture of lengths, a couple I have been reading at a leisurely pace and got through in July, kept me on my goals for the year.

Stats: 14 books read. 7 by women. 3 spy thrillers, 1 memoir, 2 translated, 1 picture book, 1 non fiction, 1 poetry.

Where I went: France, Ireland, Mexico, Syria, Russia, Jamaica, Great Britain and China, San Diego in CA, Louisiana

Authors new to me: Khaled Khalifa, Ed Young, M O Walsh.
Favorites: Chimes of a Lost Cathedral, Trust Exercise. Least favorite (but not horrible): Normal People

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Have you read any of these? What were your favorite reads in July?

Wednesday, July 31, 2019


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The Secret Lovers, Charles McCarry, E P Dutton, 1977, 308 pp
My husband and I are continuing to read and enjoy this spy series. The Secret Lovers is the third one. Its title turned out to have a double meaning. Several characters are double agents. Many have relationships that go back a long way, including to the Spanish Civil War and even to the Russian Revolution. Everyone has secrets.
Paul Christopher, special agent of the CIA, is the protagonist in the series. To make things as confusing as possible, this one takes place earlier than the previous book, The Tears of Autumn. Paul is married to a psychologically fragile woman from a wealthy Southern family. Their love is strong but she is not doing well with being the wife of a spy who is continually going off to various European countries on dangerous missions about which he can tell her nothing.

The story is set in 1960. The Cold War is as cold as it always was. The operation that makes up the plot has to do with smuggling a novel out of the USSR, the author being in a Soviet prison. It was cool to have all that Russian literary intrigue mixed in.

I must say that reading The Secret Lovers was a test of my mental acuity and memory as I struggled to keep track of all the threads. I had to be in Paul Christopher's mind while at the same time learning some facts before he did. Forget all those games you see on-line to sharpen your mind. Just read Charles McCarry once in a while and you will stay sharp.

Nevertheless, and sorry to John le Carre, I think this is the best novel I have read about the toll that working in intelligence inflicts on the personal lives of its agents.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019


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Selected Poems, Gwendolyn Brooks, Harper & Row, 1963, 137 pp
I finished this collection of selected poems by Gwendolyn Brooks. I have got the habit now of reading a poem a day, usually before bed. Even more than fiction, a poem takes me out of my own head and into the poet's.
Ms Brooks was a phenom when it came to publishing books of poetry: 19 of them. She won a Pulitzer Prize in 1950, the first Black author to do so. "I am interested in telling my particular truth as I have seen it," she wrote. Her truth comes from her life as a Black woman in America. 

She only wrote one novel, Maud Martha, 1953. I liked it so much that for years I was upset she didn't write more novels. I am no longer upset. Her poems are just as good. I hope one day to read all of those 19 books.

So far in my poetry adventure I have read 20th century poets. Now I am ready for the earlier works, the foundations of modern poetry. I have dug out The Standard Book of British and American Verse from my shelves. It begins with Chaucer (1340-1400) and ends with Vita Sackville West (1892-1962). On the advice of Christopher Morley, who wrote the preface, I am reading it back to front, "so that you begin with the contemporary mood and gradually swim towards older words and manners," as he says. It is a huge book, 735 pages. It may take me the rest of my life to read! I feel fine, after Gwendolyn Brooks's rendering of her American experience, about swimming towards earlier beginnings. It is part of what we do as we age.

Sunday, July 28, 2019


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All You Need Is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s, Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, Harvard University Press, 1998, 259 pp
Summary from Goodreads:
The nation was powerful and prosperous, the president was vigorous and young, and a confident generation was gathering its forces to test the New Frontier. The cold war was well under way, but if you could just, as the song went, "put a little love in your heart," then "the world would be a better place." The Peace Corps, conceived in the can-do spirit of the sixties, embodied America's long pursuit of moral leadership on a global scale...More than any other entity, the Peace Corps broached an age-old dilemma of U.S. foreign policy: how to reconcile the imperatives and temptations of power politics with the ideals of freedom and self-determination for all nations.
My Review:
I read this as research for my autobiography. It is a history of the Peace Corps from its beginning as a program created by President John F Kennedy in 1961 through to the late 1990s. The Peace Corps is still going today though we don't hear much about it. After finishing the book I discovered that they have a presence on Twitter and now follow their posts there.
The book is good thorough history. It tracks the political scene all through the years covered, as the organization was built, and as changing times had their effects on the Peace Corps in its attempts to live up to American ideals.
Though sometimes a bit dry, I made it through the book at my usual non-fiction reading pace of 10 pages a day, finishing it in a month. 
Of course I was aware of the Peace Corps during my high school and college years, but I was more aware of Civil Rights and the Vietnam War. I was strongly in favor of the first and rabidly against the second. Back then I thought I was "with it" but looking back now, I was in truth quite unsavvy when it came to politics. Most of what I knew came from radical friends. This book was like a crash course in what I had missed and dove-tailed nicely with the biographies of JFK, LBJ and MLK I have read over the past few years.
I find it odd that I never knew personally a single Peace Corps Volunteer and have still never met one to this day. 
Reading the book made me rather sad about the lost idealism of the 1960s. Despite our current cynicism about the world, I think many boomers still wish we could get that spirit back. It got me wondering if the Cold War and all that has followed was not so much a political and ideological fight but a financial conflict between the "haves" and the "have nots" of the world. Certainly the "haves" hold the power with no intention of letting go or sharing or helping if that means giving up an inch of that power.
I recommend the book to anyone grappling with ideas, politics, the uses of power, and what that means for the future.
Were you ever a Peace Corps Volunteer or have you ever known one?