Monday, July 16, 2018

SS-GB a novel




SS-GB, an alternate history novel by Len Deighton, takes place a year after Great Britain capitulates to Nazi Germany.  As an alternate history genre book, this work is of high quality.  Deighton has a precise and controlled prose; his powers of observation and description are high.

This book is also a mystery novel, so it follows the conventions of that genre.  Not a big fan myself; these novels always feel compressed and forced at the conclusion (as does this novel).  But overall this novel is expertly wrought and masterfully written.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Monkey Wrench Gang




Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang is supposed to be his best novel.  Abbey is primarily known for this novel, and his non-fiction book, Desert Solitaire.  This, unfortunately, is not an entirely successful book.  Abbey paints in a broad strokes, and often gets lost in those details.  He juggles too many characters, and in the process, we never really see much beneath their surfaces.

But Abbey is writing a comic novel, so perhaps the point is not an in depth treatment of human nature. But even the comedy falls flat after a while.  The novel is too long for its subject matter and grows repetitive. This book works as a political statement, perhaps, but not as a work of art.

Monday, June 25, 2018

White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing




In White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing by Gail Lukasik, the author tells the story of solving the long mystery of her mother’s ethnicity.  

Lukasik’s mother was a Creole (a person of mixed ethnicity) in New Orleans.  During World War Two, she married a GI and moved north, passing for white. The author discovers her mother’s secret accidentally, and in the process, learns how much of a social construct race and ethnicity actually is; especially for those people who straddle the line between two “races.”

Lukasik tells a fascinating, and distinctly American tale, which has all too often has been expunged from our history.   

Friday, June 22, 2018

Smith Woods: The Environmental History of an Old Growth Forest Remnant in Central New York State by Warren D. Allmon






Smith Woods: The Environmental History of an Old Growth Forest Remnant in Central New York State by Warren D. Allmon, takes a fascinating look at a small patch of old growth forest in my hometown.  This book explores the geographical, historical, and ecological history of the region, and how numerous changes in the human and natural world has affected this unique woodland.

In a time when we can get a “street view” of nearly any place in the world, but do not understand what we are seeing, this is a great example how a book can give you greater insights into your local world.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends, by Elie Wiesel





Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends, by Elie Wiesel, explores the bible from a very literal perspective.  His readings are informed by the biblical text and the Midrash, and are overwhelmingly concerned with gaps and questions about human and godly nature in the texts.  Why does Job accept G-d’s “answer” to the source of his sufferings; why is Joseph a zaddik when he is so crass and pragmatic?

Wiesel reads these stories very differently than I do.  For me, the literal elements of the biblical stories are the least interesting.  The mystical dimension is the goal; the details of the bible are only, but not exclusively, stepping stones to greater realities.

But it is informative to read Wiesel struggle with the texts.  It is certainly a deeply tradition Jewish concern.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Place No One Knew - Glen Canyon on the Colorado






The Place No One Knew - Glen Canyon on the Colorado by Eliot Porter (Photographer), Daniel P Beard (Preface), and David Brower (Foreword) is an elegy to a natural wonder buried beneath water under the auspices of so-called human progress. 

Glen Canyon was dammed in order to create Lake Powell, which generates electricity, and is a holding tank, of sorts, for Lake Mead.  Lake Mead, and other places along the Colorado River, provide water to nearly 40 million people and agriculture.

This book provides photographs of the canyon before it was lost to the depths.  Now, nature appears to be laughing at both environmentalists attempts to bring back the canyon through human effort, and those in the Bureau of Land Management to continue to exploit it. through human effort  Since 1999, when Lake Powell was last full, the area has suffered severe drought.  The canyon is emerging once more regardless of human efforts.  At times the lack has been below 30% capacity.

There is a sense of poetry and justice to all this.  Nature eventually wins - if we receive benefit or harm from this, it is entirely accidental. 


Monday, June 11, 2018

Mystery of Everett Ruess, by W. L. Rusho (Author), W.L Rusho (Editor)




Mystery of Everett Ruess, by W. L. Rusho (Author), W.L Rusho (Editor), is the first full length book about the disappearance of Ruess, a young man who wandered the dessert south-west only to disappear at the age of twenty in the Escalante region of southern Utah.

Rusho wrote this book in the 80s, so he had the benefit of interviewing people who were still alive and had know Ruess.  So, there is an immediacy to this account that is lacking in the other two books about Ruess.  

This book is a pastiche . Part narrative, part explication, part mystery drama, Rusho fills in the narrative of Ruess' life with skill.

With only three books about Ruess out there, this is a necessary read.