Reading, Listening, and Watching

 

Here I’m providing snapshots of media I’ve consumed lately since there’s too much material for discrete reviews. Note: The Kindle and audiobooks were deals I acquired on the cheap.

Signing Their Rights Away – This book provides absorbing bios for the thirty-nine signers of the Constitution. (A similar work on the Declaration is entitled Signing Their Lives Away.)  Each piece gives background on the signer’s family life, his career, his part in the Constitutional Convention, and key life events after the signing. I got this as a Kindle deal for under two dollars, and it has been worth it to awaken my mind to facts surrounding this era. For example, I was under the impression that there were just a handful of upstanding “founding fathers” at the birth of our country. This book corrects that assumption, revealing that there were other astute men on hand helping to hammer out an agreement and promote the Constitution to their home states.  I also realize that there was an astonishing amount of wealth in our land even back then; that many of the signers, if not lawyers, were surveyors or merchants; that coming to agreement on the Constitution took weeks of summer meetings in a stifling room; that there were sharp disagreements, especially on how representation in Congress could be fair to both large and small states; and that a number of the wealthy participants also speculated (foolishly) on tracts of land to the west.

The Good Years: From 1900 to the First World War – I was pleased to discover that this decades-old contribution from Walter Lord is a series of nearly self-contained narrative essays of the pre-World War I period.  The book captured me from its first chapter about a besieged diplomatic community during the Boxer Rebellion in China. I’d had the vaguest idea that there was a Boxer Rebellion; this story gave a vivid account of a small army of various Marine troops–including Japanese–holding out bravely and ingeniously against their attackers. Lord then takes us to the site of McKinley’s shooting and its aftermath, another incident I had just grazed in my history texts. He goes on to paint for us the partying lifestyle of wealthy socialites, to tell of the time when a big businessman worked night and day to bring the economy back from the brink of failure, and to examine the employment of children in factories. He takes a “warts and all” approach to America, at times getting too contemptuous and sarcastic for my taste. However, he does seem to tip his hat to reformers who, he said, did not seek to tear down our capitalist system but to improve it by addressing wrongs. One of my favorite essays was a close-up view of the Wright brothers–their persistence, genius, eventual success, and attempts to get deserved attention for their flying machine. I even had a satisfying dream based on this chapter, a dream wherein I retrieved a part the brothers needed to make their invention work.

House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East – As appealingly as this book was packaged, I gave up a few pages in.  I struggled with the heavy poetic prose that makes the writing not only corny but incoherent to me. Timelines start and stop. The author makes deep observations about inanimate objects, lyrical utterances that mean nothing to this reader. When he started in on Israel and the unjustified destruction she wreaked on the country, I was done. I did, however, follow this reading attempt by spending some time researching the Israel-Lebanon war. So the effort wasn’t all wasted.

How to Be a Tudor: A Dawn to Dusk Guide to Tudor Life – With engaging voice so far, the author engrosses the reader in a description and analysis of day-to-day life in Tudor times. My sister said she tried this book and the level of detail became tiresome. But I’m entranced, and marvel at what a resource this would be for a historical fiction writer. Any resulting fictional narrative would be an immersive experience. I am most riveted when the author quotes from primary sources, especially wills giving names and listing bequested items.  Also interesting was the discussion of cleanliness and hygiene. The author is willing to test the clothing arrangements of the time, and she insists that the wearing of laundered undergarments, despite the unwashed outer layer, keeps body odor at bay without the need for regular baths. In other words, she believes that despite popular belief, the Tudors did not go around smelling nasty, and that they valued cleanliness–they just found a way to do it without exposing their skin and thus making it vulnerable to, as they thought, illness-causing elements that could enter their pores.

In the Wars – This was a valuable, absorbing account of a young boy who grew up in Afghanistan with the ambition to become a doctor. Despite enduring the disruption of Afghanistan’s various wars, including time spent in refugee camps, the author made it to the UK and met his life’s goal, pushing through barriers to make it happen. He then helped devise a remote consulting program, where doctors in the outposts of Afghanistan and around the world can contact Western doctors for their opinions and support. With Afghanistan back under the clutches of the Taliban, I wonder whether this simple but life-saving system has survived.

Chirp Books Audio – Classic Dog Stories – These are short stories about dogs, collected in an audiobook. Overall, they were a magnificent listen. The narrators were talented enough to bring a whole new dimension to these written works. I must warn the listener, however, to skip the first selection. It is by Mark Twain, and starts out lightly enough, with life told from a dog’s point of view. But then the story descends into a nightmare of animal mistreatment and turns out to be propaganda against vivisection. It’s a traumatizing twist. Despite that bad start, there are stories here that range from mediocre to wonderful, from enigmatic to meaningful. Chekhov gets my vote for the most brilliant (but somewhat dark) story from a dog’s point of view. His simple little narrator can’t really distinguish between a good master and bad one.  This and other selections drove me to Google in a quest to understand the tale’s larger meaning.  I also appreciated the narration and literary power in the story of the little canine who persisted in following the main character through extreme storms and over icy chasms–would the pair ever return to camp and safety?

Chirp Books Audio – The Man Who Would Be King and Other Stories – I am just coming to appreciate how prolific and versatile Kipling really was. His short stories (and I may be referencing more than one collection) are read by an intense, effective professional voice. The reader makes the most of Kipling passages that are flights of literary brilliance heightened by the depth of the author’s experience and his keen insights. Even this professional narrator, however, is audibly challenged by Kipling’s denser sentences. Kipling wrote ghost stories, tales of the British government, narratives whose real meaning is plain only to himself, and accounts revealing human nature. And almost always, India provides the rich, vivid backdrop for whatever graphic human drama Kipling wants to show us next.

Captain America – For want of agreement on what to watch, my daughter persuaded me to give this movie a try last night. She had set me up for a real snorefest. However, I enjoyed the concept and the moral clarity of the main character.  National sovereignty, freedom, commitment, and courage were celebrated. It was just fun to watch, too.  Perhaps the first Iron Man is tighter and better-paced. But Captain America is worth watching, too.

To what have you been listening, reading, and watching?

Published in Literature
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  1. Fritz Coolidge
    Fritz
    @Fritz

    I remember finding that Walter Lord volume on a bookshelf in a vacation cabin my parents rented one summer, and it was a great read. His account of the Titanic disaster (A Night to Remember) was also excellent.

    • #1
  2. Mae Coolidge
    Mae
    @HermaeusMora

    As a casual viewer of the Marvel movies, I never liked Captain America. He seems too nice and too pretty. Iron man is much more appealing as a character. 

    • #2
  3. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring
    @WillowSpring

    Wow!  What an interesting and eclectic list.  I will be adding several of these to my list. 

    I am working on “Oceans of Grain” by Scott Reynolds Nelson about the importance of grain (and American Wheat) to the world.  It reminds me a little of “Guns Germs and Steel” which attempts to put history into a explanatory framework.  I don’t yet know if it works or not.

    I am also working on “The Dying Citizen” by Victor Davis Hanson.  My problem with that is my lack of a good grounding in classical history.

    I am in a bind, since both of these are due back to the library this week and there is a wait list, so I can’t extend the loan.

    I dip into “Is Reality Optional” by Thomas Sowell off and on.  It is a collection of his essays dating back over the years.  Each is a fairly quick read, but I find I need a day or so to think about them.  I love the way he can capture a thought.

    Another interesting book is “Last of the Dinosaurs” by Riley Black.  The subtitle is ” An asteroid, extinction and the beginning of our world”.   It takes the event of the large asteroid which hit in the Gulf of Mexico and follows the “Impact” to the next day, week, year, century and so on.  It is a pretty interesting read and separates out the reasoning into the end, so it reads like a novel.

     

    • #3
  4. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    I finished Oathbringer, Book three of Brian Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, earlier this week.  It has been a long outing, as I read most fiction for pleasure in small doses before bedtime.  Sanderson is unusually verbose.  (Understatement!)  I’ve gotten a couple chapters into the the next in the series, The Rhythm of War.  I buy epic fantasy and science fiction in paperback, to keep my book budget under control.

    I finished The Fabric of Civilization, Virginia Postrel’s tour-de-force on the topic of fibers and fabric and clothing, and technology thereof over the course of human history.  Highly recommended.  I purchased it in a pair with Scott Nelson’s Oceans of Grain.  I’ll start on that soon.

    I’ve detoured to do some Kindle reading this week, too, for lightweight series from lesser-known authors.  I noticed the existence of Black Salvage by JM Anjewierden, and Foreign Shores by Jason Fuesting.  Devoured them.  Quick reads, though I did review the prior books in both series to refresh the plot lines in my mind.  Recommended, but start from book #1 in both cases.

    • #4
  5. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    There’s a movie based on ‘The Man Who Would be King’, which I thought was quite good.

    • #5
  6. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    I’ve been reading the historical novels of Ken Roberts, which are set in the era of the American Revolution and the War of 1812.  Most recent: ‘Lydia Bailey’, whose setting moves from the United States to Haiti to the Barbary States.  A lot of information on the US war against those pirates…which, sadly, involved a pretty bad betrayal of an ally.

    • #6
  7. Eustace C. Scrubb Member
    Eustace C. Scrubb
    @EustaceCScrubb

    David Foster (View Comment):

    There’s a movie based on ‘The Man Who Would be King’, which I thought was quite good.

    Starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine as the soldier friends and Christopher Plummer as Kipling. Adapted and directed by John Huston – it’s pretty great.

    • #7
  8. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Eustace C. Scrubb (View Comment):

    David Foster (View Comment):

    There’s a movie based on ‘The Man Who Would be King’, which I thought was quite good.

    Starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine as the soldier friends and Christopher Plummer as Kipling. Adapted and directed by John Huston – it’s pretty great.

    Agree. I was pleased to learn that the princess in that movies was actually Michael Caine’s wife.

    • #8
  9. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    I am still slogging through the Wheel of Time fantasy series – finished Book 10 which moved faster than I expected.  Looking forward to finishing and never looking at this series again.

    I have been fan of Desmond Bagley (1923-1983) thrillers since I was a teenager and have all his books.  I just learned to my intense pleasure that a new novel has been completed from his manuscripts, published in 2019 – Domino Island . Joy!

    Also, his memoirs, Writer – An Enquiry into a Novelist, are now available for free here, including a kindle download which I immediately grabbed.

    I have been watching the entire series of My Name is Earl (2005-2009) for free on Roku. It is a clever farce that could never be done today.  Even though it was filmed only a few years ago, it is far too politically incorrect to have a chance now-a-days.

    Finally, I have resolved to clear my bookshelves and have donated a number of books to the local library to be sold.  One old series that I will read through one last time is The Dragon Knight series by Gordon R Dickson.  The first book is The Dragon and the George.  Another reason to purge these old paperbacks is that the type is almost too small for me to read anymore.

    I went through a period of a couple decades when I almost completely abandoned fiction.  I have taken it up again as contemporary life is too distasteful as I read the news every day. I need a break.

    • #9
  10. AMD Texas Coolidge
    AMD Texas
    @DarinJohnson

    David Foster (View Comment):

    I’ve been reading the historical novels of Ken Roberts, which are set in the era of the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Most recent: ‘Lydia Bailey’, whose setting moves from the United States to Haiti to the Barbary States. A lot of information on the US war against those pirates…which, sadly, involved a pretty bad betrayal of an ally.

    I read and reread “Northwest Passage” several times. I loved and still do the account of Roger’s Rangers that makes up the books first part.

    • #10
  11. AMD Texas Coolidge
    AMD Texas
    @DarinJohnson

    Mad Gerald (View Comment):

    I am still slogging through the Wheel of Time fantasy series – finished Book 10 which moved faster than I expected. Looking forward to finishing and never looking at this series again.

    I have been fan of Desmond Bagley (1923-1983) thrillers since I was a teenager and have all his books. I just learned to my intense pleasure that a new novel has been completed from his manuscripts, published in 2019 – Domino Island . Joy!

    Also, his memoirs, Writer – An Enquiry into a Novelist, are now available for free here, including a kindle download which I immediately grabbed.

    I have been watching the entire series of My Name is Earl (2005-2009) for free on Roku. It is a clever farce that could never be done today. Even though it was filmed only a few years ago, it is far too politically incorrect to have a chance now-a-days.

    Finally, I have resolved to clear my bookshelves and have donated a number of books to the local library to be sold. One old series that I will read through one last time is The Dragon Knight series by Gordon R Dickson. The first book is The Dragon and the George. Another reason to purge these old paperbacks is that the type is almost too small for me to read anymore.

    I went through a period of a couple decades when I almost completely abandoned fiction. I have taken it up again as contemporary life is too distasteful as I read the news every day. I need a break.

    I gave up on Wheel of Time somewhere around book 7 the first time. I like epic fantasy but it just got too long and convoluted. I tried to go back and start up on the novels Brandon Sanderson finished to end it but decided I just didn’t have it in me to start at the beginning again so that I could remember what was going on.

    • #11
  12. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    AMD Texas (View Comment):

    Mad Gerald (View Comment):

    I am still slogging through the Wheel of Time fantasy series – finished Book 10 which moved faster than I expected. Looking forward to finishing and never looking at this series again.

    …….

    I gave up on Wheel of Time somewhere around book 7 the first time. I like epic fantasy but it just got too long and convoluted. I tried to go back and start up on the novels Brandon Sanderson finished to end it but decided I just didn’t have it in me to start at the beginning again so that I could remember what was going on.

    The complete Wheel of Time series is on my wishlist, behind the rest of Sanderson’s œvre and numerous other interests.  So, someday.  Others in my family loved it, and thought Sanderson wrapped it up nicely.

    • #12
  13. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    The comments about Sanderson wrapping up the Wheel of Time series are very encouraging!

    • #13
  14. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring
    @WillowSpring

    Mad Gerald (View Comment):
    I went through a period of a couple decades when I almost completely abandoned fiction.  I have taken it up again as contemporary life is too distasteful as I read the news every day. I need a break.

    This comment strikes a chord with me.  I used to read a lot of either history of the founding period of our country – and marvel at how smart the founding fathers were,  or books on the current situation such as “Culture of Corruption” of “January 6” and marvel at how far we have fallen.

    Now, I find myself drawn to various thrillers where the villains are pretty clear cut and get their justice at the end.

    • #14
  15. AMD Texas Coolidge
    AMD Texas
    @DarinJohnson

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    AMD Texas (View Comment):

    Mad Gerald (View Comment):

    I am still slogging through the Wheel of Time fantasy series – finished Book 10 which moved faster than I expected. Looking forward to finishing and never looking at this series again.

    …….

    I gave up on Wheel of Time somewhere around book 7 the first time. I like epic fantasy but it just got too long and convoluted. I tried to go back and start up on the novels Brandon Sanderson finished to end it but decided I just didn’t have it in me to start at the beginning again so that I could remember what was going on.

    The complete Wheel of Time series is on my wishlist, behind the rest of Sanderson’s œvre and numerous other interests. So, someday. Others in my family loved it, and thought Sanderson wrapped it up nicely.

    The Mistborn books are well worth your time. They made my non-reading 17 year old into a reader. He shocked me by telling me he was reading a book and really liked it. I recognized it and he was shocked that he was enjoying something that his Dad read years ago when they first came out.

    • #15
  16. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    AMD Texas (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    AMD Texas (View Comment):

    Mad Gerald (View Comment):

    I am still slogging through the Wheel of Time fantasy series – finished Book 10 which moved faster than I expected. Looking forward to finishing and never looking at this series again.

    …….

    I gave up on Wheel of Time somewhere around book 7 the first time. I like epic fantasy but it just got too long and convoluted. I tried to go back and start up on the novels Brandon Sanderson finished to end it but decided I just didn’t have it in me to start at the beginning again so that I could remember what was going on.

    The complete Wheel of Time series is on my wishlist, behind the rest of Sanderson’s œvre and numerous other interests. So, someday. Others in my family loved it, and thought Sanderson wrapped it up nicely.

    The Mistborn books are well worth your time. They made my non-reading 17 year old into a reader. He shocked me by telling me he was reading a book and really liked it. I recognized it and he was shocked that he was enjoying something that his Dad read years ago when they first came out.

    Already done with Mistborn (both trilogies).  I’m following Sanderson’s recommended reading order for the Cosmere.

    • #16
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