Thursday, October 20, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Writing 01

Act One. Moss Hart. The making of a popular playwright.

Autobiography of Mark Twain. Written at a time when America was young and optimistic. But Twain’s autobiography reflects his cynicism and, in the end, a preoccupation with Death, the Deliverer.

 Booknotes. Brian Lamb, Ed. On C-Span, Brian Lamb interviewed authors of nonfiction. He would have nothing to do with fiction. Question that Brian Lamb asked the authors: Where do you write? Do you use a computer? How did you research this? What first got you interested in writing about this? How did you get a publisher’s attention? How long did it take you to write it?

The Writer’s Book. Helen Hull, Ed. An anthology of thoughts on writing—and reading—by a variety of writers.

The Writer’s Chapbook. George Plimpton, Ed. A chapbook is a short book with short entries. The Writer’s Chapbook is a book by writers on writing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Society 03

The Great Crash: 1929. John Kenneth Galbraith. If bankers and financiers had read this book, the great housing bubble of the 1990s and 2000s might not have happened.

The True Believer. Eric Hoffer. Hoffer, a well-read longshoreman, among other skid-row professions, has thought deeply about mass movements and seems to put those thoughts on paper in a random fashion. What’s missing is transitions from one paragraph to another. However, the ideas are connected. The reader has to make the connections. In his opinion, “True Believers” are frustrated people who seek to lose their personalities in a cause, any cause, for which they are willing to do anything, even give their lives. Hoffer explores the many implications of this type of personality.

V Was for Victory: Politics and American Culture During WWII John Morton Blum. Politics did not disappear in World War II. Blum discusses how war was sold to Americans. Propaganda was used to produce positive popular images of our own fighting men, our allies and the enemy.

Bring Out Your Dead. J.H. Powell. The anatomy of a crisis. How this particular crisis—the yellow-fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793—was dealt with. It was not resolved by human effort, but by nature’s change of seasons, the frost, that killed the real culprit, the mosquito. But to some degree the crisis was dealt with by human beings, especially the mayor of Philadelphia, Matthew Clarkson, who faced urgent problems and made decisions.

Three Cups of Tea. Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Do you think every Muslim is a potential terrorist? Do you agree with the bumper sticker that says, “Nuke ‘em All—Let Allah Sort them Out”? Then you need to read this book. You need to become familiar with the moderate Muslims, the Muslims who live in the mountains of Pakistan, impoverished illiterate people who don’t have any chance for an education, except for the schools for boys, the madrassas, schools that teach terrorism. This book changed my attitude toward Muslims.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Society 02

Minority Report: HL Mencken's Notebooks. If you have not read something by H.L. Mencken, you have missed one of the truly memorable misanthropes in civilization, who wrote in a style that infuriated most of his readers. He is a wall-to-wall critic of almost everything to be encountered in American society in his own day and today, and each of his shafts brings from readers the response, “Damn it, he’s right!” Well, half-right anyway.

 Selling Sickness. Ray Monihan and Alan Cassels. Ordinary people with common complaints are being turned into patients by pharmaceutical companies who market drugs through doctors and directly to consumers.

 The Road Ahead. William H Gates, III. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, predicts the changes in the world that will happen because of the computer and the Internet—in 1995. He is almost dead right. “ There will be a day, not far distant, when you will be able to conduct business, study, explore the world and its cultures, call up any great entertainment, make friends, attend neighborhood markets and show pictures to distant relatives—without leaving your desk or armchair.”

Solitude: A Return to Self. Anthony Storr. An in-depth analysis of the nature and uses of solitude. Interesting anecdotes. However, the author concludes that happiness comes from both personal interrelationships as well as  solitude. Took a whole book to arrive at what appears to be plain common sense.

 Some Good in the World: A Life of Purpose. Edward J. Pyszek with Jake Morgan.  This book, little known, perhaps, outside of the Philadelphia, Pa, area and possibly in Poland, is the great American success story. Emphasis on “life of purpose.”

Monday, October 17, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Society 01

Walden Two. BF Skinner. The message of the book: organize society using positive reinforcement.

Eros and Civilization. Herbert Marcuse. This book offers an alternative view of society in which instincts are not repressed, in which the energy from the instincts is not sublimated to labor but spreads to the full development of the individual’s potentialities.

Future Shock. Alvin Toffler. People are overwhelmed by change and acceleration of change. Future shock: Too much change into short a time.

A Left-Hand Turn Around the World. David Wolman. If you’re not left-handed, you have probably not given the topic of left-handedness much thought. “Gauche,” “sinister,” “left-handed compliment,” “maladroit”: The English language has not been very kind to left-handers. So our author, a left-hander, decided to explore the phenomenon of left-handedness.

Karl Marx: His Life and Environment. Isaiah Berlin. We can learn some things from Karl Marx. “Denunciation of Communist doctrine has become commonplace in America, but thoughtful examination of Communist philosophy is rare.”

 On Aggression. Konrad Lorenz. The author claims to have studied aggressive behavior in animals and to have drawn conclusions from their behavior that might help humans to control the aggressive instinct.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Science 02

The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher. Lewis Thomas. This book by Lewis Thomas, a physician, is a series of essays consisting of ideas and reflections about medicine and a range of other topics. An idea from this book I have never forgotten: After death, where do all the consciousnesses go?

Microbe Hunters. Paul DeKruif. The stories in this book are about known and unknown scientific heroes of humanity. They are distinct personalities. Sometimes they doggedly worked to achieve their goals and sometimes they achieved them by accident. Paul DeKruif, the author of these biographies of scientists, has an engaging style of writing. Your eyes will fly over the pages of this book.

 Out of Chaos. Louis J. Halle. Explains the apparent contradiction between accident in the foundations of matter and order in its developed form, between molecules bounding from one to another like pin-balls and a full-gown human being. A work that unites the two cultures, science and art. In science, history and contemporary affairs, the closer our perspective, the more chaotic things appear to be; the wider and broader our perspective, the more ordered things appear to be.

The Schweitzer Album: A Portrait in Words and Pictures. Erica Anderson. Schweitzer was a remarkable person. The essence of Dr. Schweitzer’s life and thought was respect and reverence for all life. He believed that the idea of reverence for life is spread from person to person not through the mass media. All life is one. The good preserves and supports life; evil destroys or injures life.  Everything that lives is related to us.

A Random Walk in Science: An Anthology. Compiled by RI Weber. Ed. By E. Mendoza. Despite the humorous items, there is a fairly serious intent to this book. The 133 selections record some changing attitudes within science and mirror the interactions of science with society.  There are anecdotes about noted scientists, items of historical interest, and articles showing the often bizarre ways in which scientific theories are brought into being. Before you take science too seriously, you need to read this anthology. Parts of it are very, very funny.

 The Universe and Dr. Einstein. Lincoln Barnett. Haven’t you always wondered about what Einstein said concerning the universe? Well, after reading this book, you probably  won’t be able to talk about it at cocktail parties, but Barnett does shed light on Einstein’s ideas. And after you have read even these highlights, you will be struck again with the wonder of the universe in which we live and the intelligence of the One who created it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Science 01

The Double Helix. James D. Watson. “Crick and Watson merged data from chemistry, physics and biology to solve the structure of DNA, building a hypothetical model….” From the dust jacket.

 Day One: Before Hiroshima and After. Peter Wyden. Vivid account of the problems in communication that occurred on America’s way to developing the atomic bomb and of the effects of the bomb on the people of Hiroshima.

The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity. Roy Porter. A history of medicine from the clearly defined conviction of the Hippocratic oath to the muddy ethical dilemmas of modern-day medicine.

The Immense Journey. Loren Eiseley. Series of essays concerned with the meaning of evolution. Eiseley views evolution as a continuing process, continuing to change to become—who knows what? Men and women as they are now will not be the men and women of the far future. We are working out what we are going to be. JW Krutch: “We think of ourselves as the climax of evolution, but we may be hardly more than its beginning.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Religion

Crossing the Threshold of Hope. Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II confronts the most persistent questions about religion, including, “Why does God permit suffering?”

 Penséees. Blaise Pascal. The first half of Pascal’s Pensées is profound. At one point, I considered Pascal’s Pensées to be the counterpoint to Islam’s Koran, “the only book needed in the world.” The second half of the book, arguing that the Catholic Church is the answer to the conundrums and dilemmas of humanity, is interesting, but less profound.

Under the Banner of Heaven. Jon Krakauer. A study in extremism. While this book is primarily about Mormon fundamentalists (read, believers in polygamy, which mainstream Mormons do not accept today), it is also a history of Mormonism. Hard to believe that people would be credulous enough to accept Joseph Smith’s account of the Angel Moroni and the golden plates which he translated from Egyptian hieroglyphics by means of magic glasses and a magic stone. But, along with Islam, Mormonism is one of the fastest growing world religions. Mormon fundamentalists believe that God gives his orders directly to  individuals and this leads to often bizarre behavior.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Politics and Govt. 05

Harry S. Truman by Margaret Truman. Some of the highlight events of Truman’s Presidency were his sudden assumption to the Presidency, negotiations with Churchill and Stalin, dropping of the atomic bomb, the shift from a war-time to a peace-time economy, the Marshall Plan, the Berlin blockade, Palestine, the Korean War and the dismissal of MacArthur, thus reinforcing civilian control of the military. While these facts are carefully documented in his own memoirs, Margaret Truman, his daughter, shows the human side of the President, his feelings under the pressure of events during his Presidency. They also provide a good summary of the events and the principal people involved in them, She shows his sense of humor, his pride in his family, and his knowledge of history that often served to guide his actions.

 Yankee from Olympus: Oliver Wendell Holmes. Catherine Drinker Bowen. Although this book concerns primarily Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., i.e., Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the author, Catherine Drinker Bowen, spends time in the first quarter of the book describing in colorful detail, the grandfather, called Abiel, and Junior’s father, called Oliver or Dr. Holmes. The grandfather, Abiel, was a lawyer and Junior’s father, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, a physician and a writer of note.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Politics and Govt. 04

A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. When one member of his staff said he had had no training for the office that JFK was appointing him to, JFK replied that he, too, had had no education in how to be a President. They would both have to learn on the job. This book, together with Theodore Sorenson’s Kennedy tells the reader what JFK learned about being President.

Time Present, Time Past. Bill Bradley. Bradley wrote this book and others in order to become a Presidential candidate in the year 2000 election. Of course, he didn’t achieve his goal of becoming President, but his book offers a view of some of the issues other Presidential candidates need to consider: renewing people’s faith in the government, the problems of racism, uniting the many cultures in our society, urban education, the use of downsizing to increase corporate profits, and the nature of politics in the 21st century. Bradley  wants to use Presidential power to alter the national self-perception.

The Uncommon Wisdom of JFK. Eds. Bill Adler and Tom Folsom. John Kennedy was a prolific reader. He thought deeply about government and life. He fully appreciated that America was a model for free societies. If America failed, society based on freedom would also fail. He appreciated the transience of life and was fully conscious that the atomic age could obliterate the earth. They were the times in which he lived and governed.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Politics and Govt. 03

Memoirs by Harry S. Truman. Vol. One. Read to understand the magnitude of Harry S. Truman’s achievement, the flexibility of his personality, the sophistication of his political skills and the application of his fundamental principles. Deep down, he was an angry politician who rarely showed his anger. This memoir belies his image of a small-town hayseed who somehow managed to stumble through his Presidency.

Memoirs by Harry S. Truman. Vol. Two. The second volume of Truman’s Memoirs concerns the major issues with which he had to deal after WWII: Russia and the Cold War; the Berlin Blockade; labor, management and the Taft-Hartley Law; Korea, Communist China; MacArthur’s revolt; the unbelievable Marshall Plan and, of course, his upset re-election to the Presidency.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Politics and Govt. 02

Ask Not (JFK’s Inauguration Speech). Clarke. A good summary of the character of JFK and the politicians with whom he had to deal.

Best and the Brightest. Halberstam. The contrast between the Kennedy and LBJ style of leadership.

The Making of the President, 1960. Theodore H. White. Gives insights into the personalities and strategies of the Presidential candidates in 1960, won by John F. Kennedy.

Kennedy. Theodore Sorenson. Sorenson presents a comprehensive view of Kennedy’s ideas and methods of leadership.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Politics and Government 01

Abraham Lincoln. Prairie Years. Sandburg. A vivid re-creation of the youth and the times of Abraham Lincoln’s growing up.

Abraham Lincoln. War Years. Sandburg. An understanding of Lincoln’s principles of leadership in the Civil War and the profound change in the future of America because he was assassinated.

All Too Human: A Political Education. George Stephanopoulos. Behind–the-scenes view of Bill Clinton’s Presidency.

American Presidency. Clinton Rossiter. Thoughtful view of the powers and limitations of the American Presidency.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Novels 14

From Time to Time. Jack Finney. Novel. While time travel is fantasy, the issue raised by both Time and Again and From Time to time, could become a serious problem. If we could travel back in time, what would happen if we tried to alter what actually happened in history?

A Handful of Dust. Evelyn Waugh. Novel. A portrait of the decadent British aristocratic world of the 1930s.

Decline and Fall. Evelyn Waugh. Novel. Paul Pennyfeather becomes a member of a dysfunctional faculty in a public school in England.

I, Claudius. Robert Graves. Novel. My research presented Claudius as far from the benign, scholarly narrator of Graves’ I, Claudius. He was as cruel as his predecessors and the emperors who followed him. The time of Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula, and, following Claudius, Nero.

All the King’s Men. Robert Penn Warren. Novel. The complexity of a politician’s motivation.

Anthem. Ayn Rand. Novel. An antidote to the culture of melding the individual into the group.

As I Lay Dying. William Faulkner. Novel. Faulkner uses words to help the reader visualize the character, mood and even the weather in the South after the Civil War.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Novels 13

The DaVinci Code. Dan Brown. Novel. Some people were afraid to read this novel because they thought it would destroy their faith. It is actually just an ordinary mystery/detective novel.

Poland. James A. Michener. Novel. Most of Michener’s “novels” are really loaded with information about his topics, almost an encyclopedia, but told in story form. Michener is Polish and he wrote this novel to help people in the rest of the world understand the peculiar circumstances that make Poland what it is—a country beset by large nations  that have torn it apart, brutalized it, yet produced people of courage who never give up trying to live productive lives.

The Passions of the Mind: A Novel of Sigmund Freud... Irving Stone. Novel. A fictionalized biography of Freud, and not one of Stone’s best. It often reads more like a textbooks than a novel. But it does explain Freud’s thought in readable prose so that ordinary people like me can understand his ideas.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Novels 12

Bonfire of the Vanities. Tom Wolfe. Theme of the Justice System in big cities in America. Don’t do what’s right; do what is going to make you look good in the media.

Ragtime. EL Doctorow. In this novel, Doctorow presents an impression of the ragtime era, the period before WWI. These were the “good old days.” With vivid prose and facts, Doctorow paints a picture of a raw society divided into few very rich and many poor. It was the era of immigrants, slavery in the coal mines, women without equal rights and child labor. In this novel, you will gain a realistic view of just how “good” the “old days” were.

End Zone. Don DeLillo. Novel. End Zone is a fictionalized view of a college football program: robots orchestrated by coaches to go through the motions.

Underworld. Don DeLillo. Novel. Another in the “Depressing School of Literature.” And yet,  it affirms life. It defines the people in the “Underworld,” the bottom of the social ladder, as depressed, helpless, hopeless and having no control of their lives. In other words, it’s an attitude that puts people into the dregs of society.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Novels 11

East of Eden. John Steinbeck. Parallel to the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. Steinbeck’s philosophical musings are interesting. Vivid portrait of California farming.

Lolita. Vladimir Nabokov. Novel. Ah Ha! A dirty book. Right? The basic plot certainly seems so. Nabokov says it is actually a celebration of the American language and culture.

The Magus. John Fowles. Novel. For a while, in the early 1970s, this novel became a cult classic. Many high school and college students were reading it. No one could figure it out. But they couldn’t stop reading.

On the Road. Jack Kerouac. Novel. A portrait of America in the 1950s, the view of the ‘50s generation and the aimless desire for experience.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Novels 10

The Way of All Flesh. Samuel Butler. Novel. Through three generations, sons in the family Pontifex lived in fear of their fathers and then treated their sons in the same way. Ernest breaks the chain.

Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain. Novel. A combination of hilarious scenes and a deep, deep understanding of the tragedy of slavery.

 Mr. Blue. Myles Connolly. Novel. Mr. Blue is an unusual character. He is a Christian who loves life, who can sacrifice his own personal interests to help others with no promise of reward other than alleviating the plight of others. He is, in short, a replication of Christ in the modern world.

Memento Mori. Muriel Spark. If, as a young person, you think old people (over 70) live out their old age serenely, reflecting comfortably on their positive experiences over the years, this novel depicts a very different existence—fretful, self-absorbed, worried about trivial circumstances, hyper-critical of other old people, noting their mental instability, reflecting on affairs and embarrassments during the years, using their wills to retain influence over people looking for an inheritance, problems with their bladders, taking pills, no longer valued for their knowledge or viewed as important individuals, wildly suspicious and swiftly dying off because of medical and other causes, including violence and car collisions. Spark writes with a dead-pan, blank expression as she states matter-of-factly what the characters think, say and do. The result is hilarious—and irreverent—and true to life.

The Once and Future King. TH White. Delightful story of the education for leadership of King Arthur by Merlyn. Part of his training was in learning to live with the animals and gain their perspective. His purpose in founding the Round Table was to channel the natural aggressiveness of men into fighting for good causes.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Novels 09

Don Quixote of La Mancha. Miguel de Cervantes. If you read Don Quixote for no other reason, read it for the abundance of proverbs uttered by Sancho Panza and by many others. Alonso Quinjano is a gaunt country gentleman whose mind is so crazed by reading romances of chivalry that he believes himself called upon to redress the wrongs of the whole world and sets out on his horse with his page, Sancho Panza, to do so.

The Pickwick Papers. Charles Dickens. Novel. The history of the Nimrod Club, the members of which go out shooting, fishing, etc., and get themselves into difficulty because of their lack of dexterity. In short, a club of klutzes. A mixture of wit and wisdom; the introduction of Sam Weller and his widow-hating father. The sheer joy in using language. Simply hilarious.

The Brothers Karamazov. Fyodor Dostoevski. Novel. Who killed Fyodor Karamazov? Each of his sons feels complicity in the murder.

Utopia. Sir Thomas More. One of the seminal books in the history of literature. “Utopia” is from the Greek, ou, “not,” and topos, “a place,” or “nowhere.” Written in two books in Latin. Book One presents analysis of contemporary social, economic, penal and moral ills in England. Book Two is a narrative describing Utopia, a country run according to the ideals of the English humanists, where poverty, crime injustice and other ills do not exist.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Novels 08

The Eighth Day. Thornton Wilder. Novel. God’s Creation ended with the Seventh Day. Man’s creation continues with the eighth day. And the key to that creation is the many Messiahs who build within families to a high point of humanity. Christ is only one Messiah from only one family. There are many more to come.

 The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Thornton Wilder. In 1714, a bridge over a canyon in Peru breaks, precipitating five travelers into the gorge. A Franciscan monk, Brother Juniper, attempts to learn why the tragedy happened to these particular five people. Does God have a plan?

Watch and Ward. Henry James. Novel. Why read Henry James? For many reasons. His subtle expression of the intricacies of relationships is revealing of how people think and feel in relation to others. His character studies reveal the complexity of personality. He throws off ideas and memorable words almost as afterthoughts. One will find many a mot juste in his novels. And he works mainly with the relationships of unsubtle, honest and straightforward Americans against the subtle, devious, cultured Europeans. However, Watch and Ward deals only with America and is an early novel. The idea behind the novel is bizarre. Roger Lawrence adopts a little girl and brings her up to be his perfect wife—without telling her.

Portrait of a Lady. Henry James. Novel. Henry James studies the relationships between the American character and the character of aristocratic Europeans.

The American. Henry James. Novel. The clash of cultures between the American character—honest, naïve, member of a classless society—vs. European aristocratic belief in the primacy of social class based on heritage, honor and manners.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Novels 07

Giants in the Earth. OE Rolvaag. Novel. Per Hansa, who had a vision of the settled prairie with full wheat harvests, faces the isolation of a desolate, endless, malevolent landscape with a wife, Beret, who does not share his vision, who is fearful of the environment, depressed and certain that humans living in this environment will turn into beasts.

My An'toni'a. Willa Cather. Novel. Helps the reader understand the experience of opening the American prairie to society. The joys and sorrows and burdens of being pioneers in America’s westward movement.

 Main Street. Sinclair Lewis. Novel. Lewis captures the “spirit” of small-town America—its tediousness; self-importance; endless repetition of activities, jokes and stories; conformity; and intolerance of anything that does not conform to its expectations.

Babbitt. Sinclair Lewis. Novel. Presents a portrait of George Follensbee Babbitt, a middle-aged realtor, booster, and joiner in Zenith, the Zip City.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Novels 06

War and Peace. Leo Tolstoy. Novel. In War and Peace, Tolstoy alternated literary forms, using fiction to tell the story of the maturing of Pierre Bezukov, Andre Bolkonsky and Natasha Rostova during the Napoleonic campaigns in Russia, and essays in which he discusses the ironies and absurdity of war.

The Red Badge of Courage. Stephen Crane. Novel. A realistic, impressionistic description of confusion and fear and death in the Civil War, written by an author who had never seen a real battle, but so vivid that “you are there.”

 The Naked and the Dead. Norman Mailer. Novel. About the complex inner workings of people who engage in war, their interactions with others, and the effects of authority on individuals who are under their command.

Tales of the South Pacific. James Michener. Series of short stories based on incidents experienced by the author when he served in the South Pacific during WWII. The theme is waiting, the endless waiting, to see action. The waiting occurred because the islands leading toward the Japanese mainland had to be staffed and prepared for the string of attacks on islands nearer the Japanese mainland. In fact, the planning, including the medical planning in anticipation of certain types of wounds, is absolutely amazing. It made me think that what won WWII was superior planning and organizing.

Catch-22. Heller. By pleading insanity, Yossarian hopes to find a way out until the doctor quotes the notorious Catch-22: A man would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t but if he was sane, -he had to fly them.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Novels 05

A Country Doctor. Sarah Orne Jewett. Novel. Nan could not be a doctor and married at the same time. That was the way it was in her day. She chose to be a doctor against everybody’s wishes and advice.

Deephaven. Sarah Orne Jewett. Two young women make a summer visit in a reunion of their childhood vacations to Deephaven, once a thriving Maine seaport town, now left to its memories. Its population consists of poor fishermen, farmers and retired sea captains and their families.

The Country of the Pointed Firs. Sarah Orne Jewett. Novel Stories of the people of the rural seacoast of Maine. To appreciate this novel, you have to be in the mood to listen—to the people themselves—to let them tell their stories in their own way and at their own pace. You can’t hurry them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Novels 04

The Scarlet Letter. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Novel.  All people have secret sins. Many people use or manipulate others to gain something for themselves. Both characteristics are exemplified in this novel, an American classic.

The House of the Seven Gables. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Romance/Novel If readers can savor the experience, become a part of the times, feel the mood and see the architecture of mid-nineteenth-century New England, identify with the feelings and motives of the characters, they will have enriched their spirits with what today is called a “virtual experience.”

Blithedale Romance. Hawthorne. Novel. As close to a novel as Hawthorne gets. Miles Coverdale, the narrator, is a coldly inquisitive observer. In revealing his knowledge of the other members of the community, he reveals himself.

The Marble Faun. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Novel. Theme: humans need to experience sin in order to become truly human.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Annotated Table of Contebts: Novels 03

Silas Marner. George Eliot. Novel. Bitter, miserly weaver who has no friends in the village, has come there after having been accused of a crime committed by a friend, has his hoard of gold stolen, but takes in a little yellow-haired baby girl, Eppie. Gradually, as she grows older, she brings him back to a more normal view of life.

Middlemarch. George Eliot. Novel. The theme of this novel is the loss of idealism, first by Dorothea, who is disillusioned to find that her husband is a desiccated scholar, a scholar whose work is a waste of time. The second loss of idealism occurs with Dr. Lydgate, a physician. The lost idealism of Dr. Lydgate is probably true of many physicians today.

The Mayor of Casterbridge. Thomas Hardy. Novel. A man gets drunk at a fair and sells his wife and daughter to another man. He repents. Bt he cannot overcome the consequences of his evil act.

 Tess of the D'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman. Thomas Hardy. Novel. Part of the charm of this novel, in spite of its tragic story of a good girl ruined, is Hardy’s description of the local villages, farms, and nature in the changing seasons and the customs of the rural people.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Novels 02

Northanger Abbey. Jane Austen. Novel. Satirizes the genre of Gothic mansions with mysterious goings on.

The Jane Austen Book Club. Karen Joy Fowler. Presents an interesting contrast between the life styles of Jane Austen and the characters in her novels and 21st-century liberated American women. A thoughtful look at the role of women in society—then and now.

Wuthering Heights. Emily Bronte. Somewhere I read that Emily Bronte disliked the controlled emotion and manners of Jane Austen’s novels, and set out to show that life is about passion. Wuthering Heights is about raw emotion, anger, cruelty, and vengeance. But it is also about a love that is passionate and unforgettable.

This Side of Paradise. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Novel. Contrast between the superficial college kid whose main interest was flirting with girls as he attends Princeton and world-weary, cynical, regretful, not -yet-thirty-year-old after serving as an officer in France during WWI. The novel is remarkable for  its honest and detailed descriptions of the early “Jazz Age,” the “Lost Generation.”

The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Novel. Nick Carraway, a young Midwesterner who sells bonds in New York, lives at West Egg, Long Island and narrates the story of his neighbor, mysterious Jay Gatsby, whose mansion and fabulous entertainment are financed by bootlegging and other criminal activities. But in his love for Daisy, it’s the story of a failed American dream.

Tender Is the Night. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Novel. The theme is dependence. Nicole is a wealthy mental patient who is desperately in love with and dependent on her young psychiatrist, Dick Diver, whom she marries. As she achieves mental stability and emotional independence, Dick deteriorates because he has become dependent on her. She leaves him for a man who will be her lover and her caretaker, and Dick begins an irreversible decline into alcoholism and dissolution.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Novels 01

Mansfield Park. Jane Austen. Novel. Example of life at a different time (early 19th century) in a different society (British). Austen tells a good story.

Persuasion. Jane Austen. Note Jane Austen’s humorous observation of the people in her social circle and her keen sense of the place of women in her society. Austen’s impressions of the people around her are delightful.

Sense and Sensibility. Jane Austen. Novel. Two sisters with dramatically different personalities. Elinor is cool in crisis, objective, keeps emotion in check, sees and accepts the world as it is. Marianne is emotional, uncontrolled, blows apart in crisis. The two are jilted. How do they handle this disappointing turn in their lives?

Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen. Quite a few people say that Pride and Prejudice is their favorite novel. It begins with a major domestic problem: Mrs. Bennet’s goal is to marry off her five daughters.  Mr. Bennet’s goal is to read his books in peace and to comment wryly on the people he encounters, including his wife and daughters, except for Jane Bennet who is sweet and Elizabeth Bennet who is intelligent and accepts life as it is. Elizabeth is prejudiced toward Darcy whom she perceives as proud (her family is beneath him socially) and arrogant. But he can’t help himself. He loves Elizabeth.

Emma. Jane Austen. Emma is an amateur matchmaker who makes some serious mistakes in judgments about people who want to do what they want to do, not what she wants to direct them to do—and almost loses the love of her life.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Nature 02

Watchers at the Pond. Franklin Russell. This book describes the changes in the pond during the cycle of the seasons.

Fox at the Wood’s Edge: Loren Eiseley. Gail Christianson. Biography of a scientist, a paleontologist, who wrote essays on nature and its relationship to the far-distant, prehistoric past. His style is haunting and melancholy and memorable.

 Notes from Turtle Creek. Ted Browning. Essays. Makes a convincing argument for man’s learning to live with nature, not exterminating it. A naturalist helps us to see the world of nature with a fresh view.

The Outermost House. Henry Beston. Like Thoreau at Walden, Beston took up a solitary residence in a cottage on the beach where he could observe the life of the sand and the dunes and the moods of the ocean.

Twelve Moons of the Year. Hal Borland. Each Sunday, Hal Borland published essays in the New York Times on the seasons in Connecticut where he lived. He wanted to show New Yorkers that there was life outside of New York City. These essays are beautifully written, short gems with not a word wasted, describing the changing seasons in rural New England. His essays, one for each day of the year, are “sheer celebrations of life.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Nature 01

Adirondack Country. Wm. C. White. The history of the Adirondacks, the names, the lakes, the peaks, the guides and impressions of the seasons.

American Seasons. Edwin Way Teale. The seasons take different forms in different parts of America.

Best Nature Writing of Joseph Wood Krutch. Nature and living are unpredictable and therefore mysterious.

The Years of the Forest. Helen Hoover. Wife and husband, writer and illustrator, live in the Minnesota woods. It was not a vacation. The conditions were primitive. But she and her husband were able to be independent, to work out their destiny without being dependent on anyone. They knew the animals with whom they had a close relationship as individuals, not just as wildlife. They learned to live with nature, not to control it.

Who Wakes the Groundhog? Ronald Rood. This book is packed with interesting facts about insects, birds and animal life.

Walden. Henry David Thoreau. Want a period of solitude in your life? Read Walden. You not only read about Thoreau’s living alone in a cabin at Walden Pond, outside Concord, Massachusetts, from 1845 to 1847. You live it with him. You actually feel the sense of solitude experienced by Thoreau.