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The Wild Places (Penguin Original)
The Wild Places (Penguin Original)
by Robert Macfarlane
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.15
78 used & new from $4.63

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "And know the place for the first time...", August 22, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Beechwood to Beechwood. The first book of Robert Macfarlane's that I read, almost a year ago now, was The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot. As I do for truly exceptional books, I gave it a "6-star" rating, and knew I would be reading more of his works. With "The Wild Places" I was again dazzled, as well as humbled by this rich, well-written and informative work. Humbled? Yes, Macfarlane is still under 40, yet has the erudition of a well-educated and curious person twice his age. (It does make me even more regret all that time I wasted in committee meetings!) He knows the natural world - well - identifying the flora and fauna, not just as a bird watcher might, with guide in hand. It is like they are old acquaintances. He is on equally familiar terms with the inanimate world, the one of the land itself, its rocks and soil layers. Being in Britain, naturally there is a lot of water, in various forms and states of agitation. He weaves into his depictions of his travels to the remote parts of Britain, the stories of others who have lived there, and often traveled far from their native locales. Well-known writers are a mental companion for him, and they are frequently referenced. So too, some less well-known ones; Macfarlane has now placed Bagnold's The Physics of Blown Sand and Desert Dunes (Dover Earth Science) on my reading list.

The Sunday Times of London spoke of his precise prose. And so it is, as well as fresh. Right from the beginning, he draws the reader in with fresh expressions like "Rooks haggle." And he stirred some very dormant memories. How long ago was it since I'd routinely climb trees? Like most of us, just a kid, and for some inexplicable reason, I stopped. Macfarlane, in his thirties, can't resist, and continues, seeking out a favorite beech tree not that far from his home in Cambridge. Trees, and those who love them. Xerxes is normally depicted as one of the "bad guys" of history... a ruthless "oriental" despot, off to crush those freedom-living Greek states. Maybe so, but Macfarlane relates that he loved sycamore trees, and would stop his entire army on the march, to savor some particularly appealing ones.

Macfarlane structures his work around various geographical features, such as island, valley, moor, forest, river-mouth, cape, ridge, holloway, storm-beach, saltmarsh and tor. The seeming exception is "grave,", but in ways it fits, as the author describes a peninsula in County Claire, in the west of Ireland, and the limestone features, some composed of human bones from the millenniums of burials there, which includes those who died in the 1840's as a result of famine. The author presents a chilling account of the cynicism of the landowners that were indifferent to these deaths. Likewise, in the chapter entitled "River-Mouth" I found his depictions of "the Clearances" enlightening (the landowners in northern Scotland forcibly relocated entire villages in order to enhance their ability to graze sheep.) Seeing those "pleasant" pastoral scenes of sheep grazing today, Macfarlane notes: "a caution against romanticism and blitheness."

My first experience with a "Holloway" was walking a section of the Natchez Trace in Mississippi. Less than half a century of travel on the Trace had depressed the road surface at least 6 feet in some areas. With thousands of years of travel along foot and animal paths in Britain, Holloways literally crisscross the isles, but are also largely "invisible." He actively seeks them out, with his own "maps" of the terrain, so different from road maps that give us a very one-dimensional picture of the countryside.

The author sleeps out in the open, in remote places, and no doubt is more "alive" for doing so, truly feeling the natural world. He rarely complains about adverse conditions, and if so, only wryly and obliquely: "But you never mentioned the midges, Sweeney, I thought reproachfully..." (p.59). He quotes numerous American writers, including an icon of the American West, Wallace Stegner, on the importance of wild places to the human psyche.

Roger Deakin was a life-long friend, and many of Macfarlane's travels were in his company. Deakin was another glorious eccentric, who appreciated the natural world. His most famous book is Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain. Deakin left us far too early, a victim of an aggressive brain tumor, at the age of 63. An apt eulogy from Macfarlane: "He was an expert in age: in its charisma and its worth. Everything he owned was worn, used, re-used. If anyone would have known how to age well, it would have been Roger."

Macfarlane end his book, coming full-circle, as the beginning of this review suggests: coming back to the Beechwoods. He quotes a poem by T.S. Eliot whose message is that we may explore far places, and in the end, see the familiar places for the first time. Likewise, Macfarlane realizes that the wild places are not just in the far off Outer Hebrides, but can also be quite close to his home in Cambridge. Another 6-star impressive work.

GENIE Garage Door Openers 18004B Capacitor
GENIE Garage Door Openers 18004B Capacitor
Offered by North Shore Commercial Door, Inc
Price: $13.00
8 used & new from $12.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Praise be to Amazon..., August 20, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Admittedly, the review's title might be "playing to the home town crowd," but it is most fair to give credit where credit is due. Particularly, since my garage door is working again, flawlessly, for under 15 bucks, with some critical advice from my brother, 800 miles away. And that sure beats calling a garage door specialist, or replacing the entire Genie Garage Door Opener mechanism.

My garage door started failing to open properly, on an interim basis. Sometimes it would open partially, sometimes not at all. (I had just replaced the springs, thought the issues might somehow be connected, but they were not.) Another ominous sign was smoke pouring out of the Genie opener when I open and shut the garage door five times in a row.

My brother lives in California, and is an electrical engineer (and can ALSO do all the practical electrical tasks around a house.) He advised me, that yes, it IS possible to fix your own garage door. He initially thought the smoke was due to excessive dust in the opener mechanism, and suggested I clean it (but it was amazingly clean inside, and that was not the problem.) I took some photographs of the entire mechanism, including all the wiring, from various viewpoints, and emailed them to him (receiving remote advice in the medical field is called telemedicine, but adding that prefix to garage door maintenance does not have the same ring.)

He noted what I had not; there was some slight leakage of a liquid from the capacitor. Hum. Although he said that capacitors normally fail "catastrophically," meaning that it will be working fine, and then suddenly not at all, he felt that my "interim" problem was the capacitor. Buying a replacement might not be an easy matter. He said that he had gone to his local electrical supply shop for a similar-type piece on another project, and even though he is an electrical engineer, they would not sell to him; he had to be a "contractor."

A quick internet review of electrical supply stores in Albuquerque yielded the ominous "wholesale," and thus I did not even bother to call. Hence, the "praise" to Amazon, who doesn't care who I am, as long as I have a valid credit card. Two days later it was here.

It is very easy to install, and it is important to note that one need not be concerned about polarity. The garage door went up the first time, and every time since. A "done deal," and I hope not to worry about it for another 10 years. 5-stars.

A Woman's Right to Know: How Women's Health Became a Political Pawn - and the Surprising Alliances Working to Reclaim It
A Woman's Right to Know: How Women's Health Became a Political Pawn - and the Surprising Alliances Working to Reclaim It
by Carol Roye
Edition: Perfect Paperback
Price: $13.46
9 used & new from $9.45

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On not seething alone..., August 18, 2014
Towards the end of this important book, Carole Roye stated her reason for writing it: "...because I can no longer sit back in my living room, read the latest assault on women's health, and seethe alone." Though her tone is temperate throughout, it would be difficult for a reader with a bit of compassion to finish it, and not only seethe, but move down the spectrum to a darker shade of anger. Roye brings the perspective of someone who has been "in the trenches" of the abortion battles, remembering the faces of the scared, and all too often poor, 14-year olds whom she has counselled, and who thought it wouldn't happen to them. And she combines this work "in the field" with a scholarly perspective, examining how trends, political and religious, have ebbed and flowed through the decades, concerning a woman's control over her body. In short, "the power game."

My own perspective is quite a bit different, by first of all, being a male. Even with the greatest amount of empathy... it is still very difficult to bridge those enormous gulfs of gender, age, and economic status. Nonetheless, with the key word being "compassion," and referencing that axiom that it takes "two to tango," shouldn't all males have the same stake in ensuring safe options for unanticipated or unwanted pregnancies? At one point Roye says that "scholars" considered this debate over in the early `80's, unaware that is when the real battle began. And since I spent two and a half decades overseas, starting in the late `70's, I personally missed a lot of "a huge one step backwards."

A further personal note is worth recounting to underscore some of the points Roye is making. Someone, somewhere, let's just call them the "boys" with the cigars and brandy in the backroom, decided to make Albuquerque, NM the "test" battleground in the latest efforts to restrict women's choices. It was an off-off election issue, a single proposition on the ballot, concerning abortion in this city. I didn't even know it was an election, but the local polling place is near my local grocery store. It was the first day (of a 10 day election period). Around noon. I entered the polling place, and sensed that I did not belong. In fact, I sensed reluctance from the polling workers to even give me a ballot. A well-dressed "church crowd" was in attendance. I read the convoluted referendum, and got to "the fetus feels unbearable pain..." and knew... and my vote was probably the first against that day. 49 others had already voted. Early on, the organizational efforts had the pro-votes way ahead, but it was heartening to see the "good folks" of ABQ rally (with a nudge or two from me) to send the measure down to defeat.

Roye makes numerous points which I was familiar with, and concur. Both infant and maternal health as well as longevity improves with fertility planning, which may include abortion. For me the new knowledge came from the historical perspective that she provides. Who would have thought that it was the early feminists and physicians who opposed abortion? The physicians, it seemed, were concerned about the declining birth rates of "their class." And the early feminists didn't want ready abortion to be a reason that they could not say "No" on that key, eternal question. The Catholic Church was OK with abortion, apparently up to 1870. Roye documents the remarkable change in the resolutions approved by the Southern Baptist Convention, between 1971, when abortion was OK, to 1980, when it was anathema. Roye was also in the front lines observing the hypocrisy in such religious leaders; when it was their wives, daughters (or mistresses?), well, of course, "exceptions" had to be granted from professed beliefs.

Pro-life, not just Pro-birth. Roye's pithy formulation also resonated with some of my long-held beliefs. Why do the people who profess such concern for the unborn not show the same concern for children after they have been born, by being willing to fund proper health care and education for them? And how often, when a war occurs, are they in the front lines shouting: Let's nuke `em? When it is "Pro-birth" only, are these advocates not serving as pawns for the "boys" in the backroom who want to ensure that "the poor will always be with us" to collect the garbage, et al. A concise, important, 5-star read.

To a Mountain in Tibet
To a Mountain in Tibet
by Colin Thubron
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.26
62 used & new from $1.79

5.0 out of 5 stars "...A dense white blossom of benediction...", August 15, 2014
This review is from: To a Mountain in Tibet (Paperback)
Colin Thubron is probably the best known living British travel writer. Regrettably, I have only heard of him recently - when this book was offered via the Amazon Vine program - and I did not punch the "Please Send" button quickly enough. Still, I kept my eye out for it, and when it was literally placed in my hands in a second-hand bookstore in nearby Santa Fe, I knew now was the time to get acquainted with the author's writing. The book pushed those "hot buttons" for me: hiking, and in remote places. It is a rich, well-written prose, with the subject quote being an example. That said, I'll get my criticism out of the way early. It took both deduction, as well as Wikipedia, to obtain some key information that Thubron omitted: he did the hike in 2009, and he was an (inspiring) 70 years old then.

The objective of the hike is Mt. Kailas, a uniquely shaped pinnacle of a mountain, which reaches more than 22,000 ft., located in western Tibet. The mountain is the source of the four great rivers of India. It is considered a sacred mountain by a fifth of humanity, both Buddhists and Hindus, and is therefore a strenuous pilgrimage destination. At the time of the hike, Thubron was very much alone in the world, having lost all of his family over the years (he has subsequently married for the first time, apparently finding his true love late in life, and I say bravo for that). The book is far more than a travelogue: there is a deep spiritual dimension to it, as well as anecdotes from his family's history. Regarding the latter, his father used to hunt tigers, not that far from the author's hike, in northern India, during the `20's of the Raj. His father was in WW II, and due to wartime censorship, would write of the flowers and the birds inside the Anzio beachhead, and later, would describe the anemones and sorrels whitening in the Austrian woods.

The hike commenced in far northwestern Nepal, from the airfield at Simikot. Thubron hikes with porters, but is not in a group of other Westerners. Within the relatively short distance to Tibet, some 80-100 km. (there is a good map at the beginning of the book), he describes how Tibetian Buddhism becomes much more prominent. The author' timing for the hike was fortuitous: only three years before, Maoist insurgents dominated the area, destroying many of the monasteries. Then there is also the physical challenge of the hike. As he reached 11, 000 ft., he said: "Slowly I am invaded by a different, profound tiredness, less muscular fatigue than an overwhelming longing to sleep." Old injuries "acted up," and he reflected on the difficulties of medical evacuation. Fortunately, he did manage to acclimatize, so that when he was later at 15,000 ft., he was far more comfortable with the altitude.

Thubron has travelled extensively, for years, in central Asia, and has studied the culture. His erudition is a steady guide once he crosses the border into Tibet. The "Maoists" are long gone, but the Chinese troop presence is heavy, due to demonstrations the previous year in Lhasa. The author seeks "the cover" of another trekking party, as he crosses the border, since lone travelers are always "suspect" by the authorities in politically sensitive regions. He manages to successfully circumambulate the mountain, including crossing an 18,000 ft. pass, and relates in painful details the many, particularly low-lander Hindus who literally die trying.

The author tells us that the Assyrian word meaning "to die" also meant "to clutch the mountain." He saved it for the end of the book - and I will not relate it - but he explained why he also knew that the mountains can kill, and why he avoided them for numerous years of his youth. His revelation hit me like a sledgehammer. In terms of the author's spiritual beliefs, they seem to be heavily influenced by Buddhism. He clarified with his "teacher" in Katmandu about reincarnation: can a person remember anything at all from a previous life? The answer is NO. It is only the rather abstract concept of "merit" that is transferred to the next life. If so, the author should have a good "balance sheet" going forward, and certainly for this book, and the corresponding inspiration, 5-stars, plus.

America redefined (The meanings of modern art)
America redefined (The meanings of modern art)
by John Russell
Edition: Unknown Binding
3 used & new from $2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars America becomes independent..., August 13, 2014
John Russell, the venerable art critic for the New York Times and the Sunday Times of London for half a century, and who died in 2008, produced this 12-volume series, in conjunction with the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. I purchased the series when it was published in 1974. It was also apparently released a year later, as the "Meaning of Modern Art." The connection between the two and the reasoning for the different editions is unclear.

This is volume 10. Russell posits that "...American painting remained until 1945 in what might be called a colonial situation. It was dominated, in other words, by the art of other times and older places." Certainly this series seems to confirm that idea, since the modern art scene was almost exclusively European. As a counterpoint, however, the author does cover pre-1945 native American art, notably some 19th century artists, such as Thomas Easkins, and his excellent "Max Schmitt in a Single Scull" and Winslow Homer's likewise reflective hat in "The Nooning." In the early 20th century, the author briefly discusses the work of Georgia O'Keefe, before she came to New Mexico. There are three plates of her work on New York, completed in the mid-20's. Also, ever so briefly, he mentions the work of a quintessential American artist, Edward Hopper. Of him, Russell said: "When it comes to the distillation of those sensations of loneliness and disinheritance which plays so large a part in American life, Edward Hopper has no equal." Demonstrating that assertion, he includes a plate of "House by the Railroad, 1925." He also mentioned Ben Shahn's work which focused on the dignity of the disadvantaged, and included a reproduction of "The Welders."

Because of the "European Civil War," an apt description for the two World Wars, and the interim period, European artists came to America in droves. An interesting perspective on what occurred came from the poet John Peale Bishop, who said: "...that it was given to the United States at that time to prolong the past of Europe into the future; and nowhere was this more true than in art." As for where these artists went - New York - Russell aptly describes it: " a self-devouring, self-renewing city, with which we come to terms as best we can...New York is never the same for ten days together. Every novel about it is a historical novel before it gets to the printer." Russell longs for an American Balzac, Dickens or Proust to properly describe it.

The author describes the collection of painters who were prominent as the "First New York School." They were neither a school, nor did that have common objectives, articulated in a "manifesto," as did the Dadist for example. He focuses on the work of four of them. Willem de Kooning, a Dutch painter, enters the US at age 23, on his 3rd try, and found his home in NYC. There is a full-page plate of his "Excavation," which I found interesting in itself; however, as is one of my critiques of critics, I thought Russell saw more in it that I. Of course, why should I question "authority"? Sliding further down that slope, the author looks at the "dribbles" of Jackson Pollack, which stemmed from "a troubled life." Then there is the work of Arshile Gorky, who arrived at age 15, not speaking the language, and succeeding. I was impressed with his "The Liver is the Cock's Comb, 1944." Lastly, there is Barnett Newman, who "signature" works are solid colors, with a few vertical lines, such as "Vir Heroicus Sublimis."

Aside from my standard criticism of seeing more in a painting that is apparent to the "untutored" eye, from a perspective 40 years later, I found Russell's trumpeting of "Americanism" a bit parochial, and not supported by the "prima facie" evidence, since so many of the artists were not originally American. Globalization, "citizen of the world," and other such expressions are now much more prevalent, and I think appropriate. As with other volumes in this series: 4-stars.

The Temple Is Not My Father: A Story Set in India
The Temple Is Not My Father: A Story Set in India
Price: $1.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indian women and power (or the lack thereof...), August 11, 2014
Ever since the days of my youth, when I undertook an extensive 7-week tour of India, I have had an enduring fascination for the "wonder that was (is) India" to use, and paraphrase the title to A.L. Basham's excellent history. I've also been drawn to, and have read a number of Indian writers, including Arudhati Roy, Amit Chaudhuri, Anita Desai and Krushwant Singh. One writer, Ved Mehta, in his impressive Portrait of India has presented an eclectic and broad-spectrum view of the many Indias, both in terms of geography and society. The one area that has been most elusive to me, certainly uncovered in the 1971 trip, but also by my selection of Indian writers, has been the central east coast, specifically Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. Telugu is spoken in much of the latter Indian state, and Hydrabad, where I have been to, is its capital. When I was offered this novella from Rasana Atreya, I realized that I could "fill in some gaps."

The practice of "devadasi" is at the heart of this novella. Admittedly, I had never heard of it. Wikipedia provides a somewhat anodyne view of the practice, and if that was the sole source, one might conclude that it is not much different that a woman entering a nunnery in the West, and even mentions the high status the "devadasi" women have in society. It also mentioned that it was outlawed in India in 1988. Why so, one might wonder? Atreya provides the reasons!

The two principal characters are a 22-year old woman, Godavari, and her daughter, Sreeja, who is around seven. Men are the bad guys in this novel, no doubt with considerable justification. Power, and the ability to obtain money, by selling their daughters to the temple, are at the heart of the matter. Sreeja has no (known) father, but realizes, as the title proclaims, that the temple is not her father. The author does a good job of unfolding the story via two other characters, teenage girls, Vanaja and Neeraja, who are marooned between two cultures. They are Americans, but were sent back to India to be with relatives because "dear old dad" is afraid they will be corrupted by America, and only traditional India is "safe," seemingly ironically oblivious to the deep corrupting influence of practices such as devadasi. "NGO" (non-governmental organizations) ladies also play a crucial role in the climatic developments of the story.

Atreya packs a lot into a wonderful introduction to her work, though I thought the ending was a bit contrived... like all too many a movie out of Bollywood. Nonetheless, it has been enough to conclude that the author has something useful to say, so I'll be reading Tell A Thousand Lies: A Novel Set In India, which is her more famous work, having been short-listed for the Tibor Jones South Asia prize in 2012. And it is a full novel. For "The Temple is not My Father" novella, 5-stars.

The Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New World
The Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New World
by Carlos Fuentes
Edition: Paperback
Price: $21.77
153 used & new from $6.67

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The more comprehensive history..., August 8, 2014
I've read Carlos Fuentes most famous novel, The Death of Artemio Cruz: A Novel (FSG Classics), twice, and entitled my review "The History of Mexico." I've also read The Old Gringo: A Novel, but was unaware of this marvelous, and much more comprehensive history of Spain and it empire in the Americas until I got a "heads up" from a fellow Amazon reviewer, who subsequently literally put into my hand in a second-hand bookstore in Santa Fe. A "must" purchase.

A novelist can provide insights into the soul of a culture, and how it might be different from another, through happenstance developments. Certainly I think Fuentes did that in "Artemio Cruz." But it is extremely rare - and I can think of no other example - whereby a first-class novelist also can produce outstanding histories, in the traditional format of the discipline, replete with real historical personages, dates, et al. For me, I think this work will be the "standard" historical reference point for Spanish history and culture.

Fuentes commences with the cave paintings of bison at Altimira, in Spain, which were painted between 20,000 and 30,000 BC. From there he segues into "unique" elements of the Spanish culture, such as the bull fight and the flamingo dance. The pre-history of Spain was reflected in the movements of small Celtic tribes in the peninsula. It was Hannibal that brought the Romans to Spain, since he went there first, from Carthage, on his way to Rome. The Romans were met with stiff disorganized tenacious resistance from the tribes. The essence of guerilla war. As we know, Rome eventually prevailed, and the native tribes adapted to Roman culture. Prior to the Romans, there were only cities along the coast, for trading purposes. The Romans built them in the interior also, and connected them with roads. Rome itself eventually succumbed to the Germanic tribes. The Visigoths never got their act together as rulers in Spain; the author highlights the role of Isidore during this period, who was a monk that developed the Church into a mechanism for ruling, which lasts today.

Another unique element of Spanish culture is its long association with Islam. It lasted almost 800 years, from 711, when the first Islamic armies invaded Spain (the place name Gibraltar is derived from an Islamic commander, Jabel al Tarik). Much has been written about the impact of the concept of the "frontier" on the American culture; Fuentes brings to light the impact of the 800 year "frontier" between Christian and Islamic cultures. The three great cities of Andalusia, Seville, Cordoba and Grenada represented some of the finest cultural achievement of Islam in Spain. In 1492, both the Muslims and the Jews were expelled from Spain, and in that tumultuous year a new world was literally "discovered" by Spain.

Much more than half the book is still left (but not of this review!), and Fuentes examines the Indian culture of the Americans prior to the coming of Columbus, and how quickly it collapsed in the face of superior weaponry (coupled with a "Fifth Column" that haunted the Indians - prophecies that this would happen). This led to the "Golden century" whereby Spain ruthlessly exploited the native population (in the process killing the vast majority) while exported vast quantities of gold and silver to the mother country, making it the dominant European power. But imperial "overreach," (too many commitments, too many parasitic nobles) eventually caught up with Spain, which commenced her long decline (Tellingly, Fuentes makes a comparison with his north-of-the-border neighbor).

Politically, Fuentes continues on through the machinations of the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons up to Franco and the Spanish Civil War. In America, Fuentes highlights both the improbability and inevitability of the simultaneous events which occurred in Mexico and Argentina in 1810, with the forces of independence led by Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin. After independence, reaction set in during the rule of the "tyrants", which have lasted, in one form or another, up to the present. Fuentes must, of necessity, cover these events with broad strokes.

Culturally, there is a parallel book interwoven, that covers the paintings of Velazquez, Goya, Diego Rivera, and many others. Another extraordinary strength of this book is the numerous quality very well-chosen pictures that should so enhance the reader's enjoyment. Some were familiar, such as Dali's painting, "The Persistence of Memory," but others were unique, and memorable, such as two dancers doing the tango.

For extraordinary books, I like to give a "6-star rating", and up until the final chapter, I would have, without hesitation. I was stunned that the man who would dedicate The Death of Artemio Cruz: A Novel (FSG Classics) to C. Wright Mills would write the following in the chapter "Hispanic U.S.A":

"They are accused of displacing U.S. workers and of harming the economy and even the nation... for one thing, the United States needs five million workers before the century is over, and these people do the jobs that no one else is willing to do anymore...without them, the whole structure of employment in the United States would undergo a drastic change, with salaries coming several notches down and millions of workers and their households suffering as a result."

Wow! Talk about buying, hook, line, and sinker, the CEO's "party line" as formulated over cigars and brandy in the back room. A full and proper critique of his last chapter would at least triple this review. Let's just say: I strongly disagree with his assertions, and would give that one chapter a 2-star. Nonetheless, overall, it is a superlative, well-written, and well-illustrated overview of Spanish history and culture, both in the "Old" and "New" worlds. 5-stars.

MIRA Lunch, Food Jar, Vacuum Insulated, Stainless Steel, 10oz, Green
MIRA Lunch, Food Jar, Vacuum Insulated, Stainless Steel, 10oz, Green
Offered by Coheso, Inc.
Price: $24.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The right size for soups and other “one-serving” snacks / drinks..., August 6, 2014
I have a couple of “standard” size thermos, long and slender, and use them mainly for transporting coffee. If memory serves me correctly, they cost in the $30-$40 range. As some other reviewers have described, in order to maximize the length of time the coffee would stay hot, I would pre-heat the inside of the thermos with hot water for 10 minutes or so, and if I was at home (as opposed to the campsite), I’d boost the temperature of the coffee by 20-30 degrees in a microwave before pouring it into the thermos. Using those techniques, I’d have very warm drinkable coffee for 6-7 hours. When I was offered the Mira thermos for review, I realized that a key difference is its more compact size, and felt that alone would be a reason for acquiring it. But would it keep the goods hot? I tested it using the same techniques as described above, and it works well: 6-7 hours. (I am impressed that some other reviewers used a thermometer... now that is a true test – mine was the old-fashioned way of: was it still hot enough for the tongue?)

There are several thoughtful features in the design. With the standard stainless steel metal thermoses that I have, I tightened the top firmly, and sometimes it is difficult to unscrew. The lid on the Mira has convenient indentations that make removing the lid much easier. Likewise, the body of the thermos has a textured surface which makes gripping it easier. And I like the lime-green color, which facilitates seeing it in a bag with 30 other items.

It is of sturdy, quality manufacture, and easy to clean. Mira says that there are no “BPA of phthalates” in the product. I don’t know what those are, but that might be comforting to those that do, since there is a lot of nasty stuff out there that can harm you.

Overall, a solid product that does the job, with some innovative features in thermos design: 5-stars.

Broken Glass
Broken Glass
by Alain Mabanckou
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.40
76 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Mission accomplished"..., August 4, 2014
This review is from: Broken Glass (Paperback)
...because only a good God can repair a broken glass (verre cassé). It is only towards the end of the novel that the reader learns why the glass is broken.

Alain Mabanckou has written a witty, insightful and at times heart-breaking novel on the lives of the inhabitants of a country that so many English speaking readers associate with darkness in the heart, thanks to Joseph Conrad. Though Mabanckou has sprinkled his work with numerous literary and cultural allusions, for some reason Conrad did not make "the cut." And where is Mabanckou from, which is the setting for this novel? The answer is not as straightforward as it is for so many other residents of this planet, and the author has a wonderful scene that identifies some of the issues involved. The character known as the "Printer" (L'Imprimeur) who is Black, and a resident of France, supervising, as the name implies, the printing of such periodicals as "Paris-Match" goes to the Vendée ( a conservative area of France whose inhabitants fought against the French revolution) to ask the parents of a white French woman, Celine, for her hand in marriage. The parents are as "liberal" as many whites get, with a communist pedigree, even. But they still make a shambles of discussing his country of origin, and present-day relations with Africa. Mabanckou, as is his character, the Printer, is from the Congo. NOT the one of Conrad fame, which was misruled by the Belgians, and later by Mobutu who would call it "Zaire." After Mobutu, the current leaders changed the name back to the Congo, and it usually carries the suffix "Kinshasa," the capital, to differentiate it from the smaller Congo, to the larger's immediate northwest, a country of 4 million, normally referred to as "Congo-Brazzaville," after its own capital.

Seedy bars are the poor man's "psychiatrist," where one can pour one's heart out, on life's woes, and perhaps obtain a sympathetic hearing. The rundown bar in question is called "Le Crédit a voyagé," and it has indeed travelled. The owner is the "stubborn snail." Most of the characters are known only by such nickname. "Verre Cassé" is a habitué of the bar, and the owner convinces him that he should record the life stories of the others. The first vignette truly "drew me in." It concerned a fight between the Minister of Agriculture and the President, with the former literally using the Zola formulation: "J'accuse". I witnessed a similar situation when I worked overseas. Nominally, educated inhabitants of a country will decry the West's "cultural imperialism," but particularly when a Westerner is not around, they will try to "one up" each other in fights with references to western culture. It can be a real slugfest, as it was between the above two, struggling for the appropriate western analogy.

"Pampers'" story, like most, is not a happy one. How did he earn his nickname? At some level, you don't want to know, and relates to some jail time he had to do. Hum, perhaps a warning label for this chapter. Almost as "edgy" is the aforementioned story of "The Printer," who went further than any other character in attempting to enter the world of the white person. He "did" France, or was it the other way around? Others, perhaps the author himself, who now teaches at UCLA, "did" America. "Verre Cassé" wife's real name is Angelique, and the reader will find out why she is referred to as Diabolique, which relates to his own troubled past.

Mabanckou's novel is for a "citizen of the world," of which he clearly is. I felt his range of cultural references worked well. One of my favorite, and how I'd start tennis matches, was quoting Mohammed Ali: "...float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." The author also worked in DeGaulle's hypocritical betrayal of the pieds noirs in Algeria with "Je vous ai compris" but does not really explain the reference. The reader has to be "au courant." He also works in Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," and concludes with The Catcher in the Rye which I recently re-read.

He did not mention a couple of books that his work called to mind, such as the "beautiful losers" in Steinbeck's Cannery Row: (Centennial Edition) and Naguib Mahfouz's Midaq Alley, which is also about the struggles of the residents in another African neighborhood of a large city. Unlike the other two novels however, Mabanckou addresses the cultural issues of the relationships between the natives of a former colony with the former "mother country."

Mabanckou is the author of some 20 novels, and much to my chagrin, I had never heard of him until a few months ago (ah, those cultural niches we dig!). Fortunately, a muse brought him to my attention. May we all be so fortunate. In terms of the next novel of his that I will read, I find, just for the title alone, les petits-fils nègres de Vercingétorix compelling. As for Broken Glass, 5-stars, plus.

[Note: This review was first posted under the original French version of this book Verre Cassee on June 27, 2014]

Mrs. Dalloway
Mrs. Dalloway
by Virginia Woolf
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.57
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A London summer day in 1923..., August 1, 2014
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This review is from: Mrs. Dalloway (Paperback)
I had previously only read Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. Since no less an authority than Simone de Beauvoir, in her seminal work, The Second Sex repeatedly referenced Wolfe's works, and even quoted significant passages from "Mrs. Dalloway" (p. 509, Bantum, 1968 edition), I figured that Woolf, Book #2 was long overdue. And I found this work of hers impressive.

Conceptually at least, Woolf's work could be considered derivative of James Joyce's classic Ulysses which was written several years earlier. Each concern the daily lives of a range of characters, living in the British Isles, on a single day, and in each novel, that day is in the middle of June. The stream-of-consciousness technique is used in each. Woolf's work is much shorter, and in ways, more intense as a result. And Woolf's work concerns the "gratin" of society, the "ruling class," as they socialize, making and reinforcing connections, and largely ignoring the catastrophe that overwhelmed Europe, ending only five years earlier, casting its "short shadow" on current events. Where Woolf has the clear edge is in her depiction of that always fascinating subject: how women and men interact.

Clarissa Dalloway awakes, and throughout the day will be preparing for the party she will hold that night to help her husband's career. Sometimes she is reduced to a single "s," as in the third letter of Mrs. Richard Dalloway. Her role as wife and supporter is a key theme in the novel. They have a daughter, Elizabeth, 18, who, as many daughters of that age do, yearn for some independence. Peter Walsh, who once courted Clarissa in her youth, 30 years before, and is six months older than her, is just back from a few years "managing" things in India, and immediately races to see her, in part to report the news that he is in love with the young wife of a British major in India, who has two children. Hum! Why, oh why, indeed? The "backdrop," central London, Mayfair, Oxford Street, et al. is repeatedly referenced as an integral part of the work.

Woolf depicts "minor characters" with deft strokes; so much so that they are so memorable that the adjective "minor" does not do them justice. There is Septimus Warren Smith who "...went to France to save an England which consisted almost entirely of Shakespeare's plays and Miss Isabel Pole in a green dress walking in a square." He returned with what we now call PTSD caused by the loss of a friend; he also returned with an Italian wife, Lucrezia. There is Miss Kilman, of the frayed cloth coat, around 40, who knows that life has passed her by, and is the tutor of Elizabeth. Miss Kilman has found solace in religion. Perhaps four generations later, I became acquainted with the "Harley Street" doctors, and their clients (patients), and so I was most impressed with Woolf's depiction of one of their antecedents, Sir William Bradshaw. Woolf says: "Sir William said he never spoke of `madness'; he called it not having a sense of proportion." Hum, again. And they always seem to know this quiet place in the countryside where the "client" will not trouble or embarrass the family. Or, as Woolf put it: "He swooped; he devoured. He shut people up. It was this combination of decision and humanity that endeared Sir William so greatly to the relations of his victims."

Much more laconic that Joyce, as I have said, and equally so compared to Proust, but Woolf novel ends with the party - will it be "successful," and yes it will be if we don't mention unpleasant things like death - that is worthy of Proust's descriptions of the "gratin" across the channel. I foresee reading To the Lighthouse in the next six months. As for Mrs. Dalloway, 5-stars, plus.

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