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Allen Smalling "Eclectic Reader," RSS Feed (Chicago, IL United States)
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The Group
The Group
by Mary McCarthy
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.59
179 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Three Million Strong and Counting, May 5, 2015
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This review is from: The Group (Paperback)
McCarthy's brainchild spans seven years in the lives of eight Vassar graduates of varying means and intellectual candle power, from their graduation in 1933 and their settling in New York City, to the eve of American involvement in World War Two. It is much to Mary McCarthy's credit, I think, that the book with its large cast does not pretend to have "the last word" about how to cope with the Depression and its economic dislocations, with men, or with life in general. The closest thing to a central character, Kay, is presumably the one who will have the world by the tail, but hers is a saga of increasing loss, betrayal and bitterness beginning with her training as a sales clerk at R.H. Macy and her marriage to a superficially appealing but ineffectual and selfish man. The smartest and most fashionable character, Lakey, disappears into Europe for most of the book, thoughtfully remembering to send stunning wedding presents, then returns to America toward the end of the book with a surprise in tow. One of the women is accidentally shunted to the mental ward of a prestigious hospital, and if not for the physician husband of a fellow Group member, might have had to fight her way out. Another one, Pokey, is so fortunate as to live in a rich family barely affected by the Depression, which offers a delightful, Jeevesian portrait of a rich family run on auto-pilot by a super-efficient butler. The men are a mixed bag: the appropriately named Dick makes sexual inroads among the unmarried of the Group but disappears when they marry. Harald Petersen, Kay's husband, is a would-be playwright employed marginally in the theater and enough to sidetrack any spouse's dreams. Other men, being less of the jerk, provide less drama but are discussed.

I think it fair to say that THE GROUP embodies some of the feminist outlook of THE FEMINIST MYSTIQUE and the smart-woman's viewpoint in novel form of THE BELL JAR (all three books were first published in 1963 but THE BELL JAR was not available to American readers until 1967). What is difficult to convey is McCarthy's polished writing, which slips in and out of satire (and sometimes, when her characters speak with internal monologue, are just 'unreliable' enough in their narration that we reader know what's going on better than the narrator does). "Sardonic" is often the word used to describe McCarthy's writing in this book, and while it is crisp (sometimes to the point of being knife-like), it is not really a particular send-up or lampoon of any Depression-era class or of the Thirties themselves.

I was astonished that one reviewer here opined that the reader "MUST be scholarly and well finished in the all of the arts, and several foreign languages, to understand the subtleties." Gentle reader, I counted three instances of French: "crepe de chine" to describe a dress collar, "faiblesse" which means weakness, and "mauvaise fille" (bad girl). Other than a line of Dante one of the women's father's spouts, that is it for foreign languages. Considering that McCarthy could have inflicted much worse on us, including Yiddish and German, we got off easily. She wanted this book to be read, and it was.

At times, the troubles faced by these women, the deteriorating economy, parental calls to "come home" (and abandon NYC) and the vagaries of spousal moods, bottle-feeding and child-rearing, did seem to have a distinct "Thirties" cast. This is, after all, social history in the form of a novel, and contemporary politics as well as the New Deal's "alphabet soup" agencies are discussed. But then I run across a passage like this where Priss muses about her physician husband Sloan and wonder if things have really changed that much at all: "There was a side of Sloan, she had decided, that she mistrusted, a side that she summed up by saying he was a Republican. Up to now this had not mattered; most men she knew were Republicans--it was almost part of being a man. But she did not like the idea of a Republican contolling the destiny of a helpless baby..."

THE GROUP has sold three million copies with more in store. I recommend it highly.


Electric Meat Grinder 1300 Watt Steel Industrial Heavy Duty Professional Commercial Home Food Mincer Slicer Mills Mixer with 3 Grinding Plates 1 Cutting Blade & Attachment Tool
Electric Meat Grinder 1300 Watt Steel Industrial Heavy Duty Professional Commercial Home Food Mincer Slicer Mills Mixer with 3 Grinding Plates 1 Cutting Blade & Attachment Tool
Offered by Shield Distribution
Price: $44.95

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The stomper, the hopper, the head, the cutting blade and all that good stuff make for some dandy home-made spreads, April 29, 2015
This powerful (1300 Watt) Electric Meat Grinder from Shield Distribution is a good heavy appliance at a good price. We didn't really have the desire (or the room) for a separate grinding agent that goes with a heavy stand electric mixer, but at the listed price (even including shipping) this is a great acquisition.

PROS: Very powerful, and can handle almost any foodstuff put into it for grinding purposes. Except for the Stomper (or "Pusher"), parts are metal. Produces a good even grind. Efficient. Vendor sent us a follow-up e-mail after purchase to make sure we were happy with the unit. Plastic components are included to prepare "Kubbe" (Kibbeh), a Middle Eastern croquette made with bulghur wheat and beef or lamb that is deep fried. (This unit does not have a sausage attachment, though.)

CONS: Caution must be used; read the entire manual first. As you'd expect with an electric motor of this size, it's noisy -- makes a sound like a blender or large-stand kitchen mixer. All the implements that come into contact with food (which is most of them), MUST be disassembled and cleaned after each use. The print in the manual (actually a four-page pamphlet) is on the small side.

This is going to make a great device to grind up meat ends, concoct pimento cheese recipes, and in general make spreads and pates that are additive-free. Highly recommended, provided you know (or intend to learn) how to operate an electric meat grinder and treat it with respect.


Urban Sketching: 100 Postcards: 100 Beautiful Location Sketches from Around the World
Urban Sketching: 100 Postcards: 100 Beautiful Location Sketches from Around the World
by Gabriel Campanario
Edition: Cards
Price: $17.19
36 used & new from $11.53

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, Vibrant and Varied, April 29, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The modern "Urban Sketchers" movement is a recent one. According to Wikipedia, "In the early 2000s a man or a woman with a small sketchbook and a pen or a brush were beginning to be fixtures in coffee shops, parks, streets and airports. Sketching as a practice is experiencing a renaissance; and the Urban Sketching movement is encouraging participation through word of mouth and in art classes and on-line social networking." Technically, sketching begins with lines and adds softer lines and colors, but techniques vary. Some of the hundred postcards in this box contain detailed, line-only sketches, others are full-scale artworks; my favorites use line and just a little color (frequently water colors) to pick out the most interesting highlights of the subject matter.

Just as technique varies, so does subject matter: Piers and plazas and pagodas; people in cafes and at ball games, lounging and shopping. The bulk of these cards take place in urban settings full of people, but nature and architectural studies are found here too. As "dean" of the movement, Gabriel Campanario has some scenes from his book in this box, but really this is a selection of all kinds of artists from all over the world. The cards are good and thick and ideal for "Postcrossing" and other mailing purposes. The "blank" side lists artists and views. There is no dividing line between text and address fields, but that is a minor inconvenience. Highest recommendations for these varied, content-rich and surprisingly sophisticated cards in their sturdy box.


Ross Macdonald: Four Novels of the 1950s: (Library of America #264)
Ross Macdonald: Four Novels of the 1950s: (Library of America #264)
by Ross Macdonald
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.93
40 used & new from $20.63

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Psychopathology moves to Suburbia -- Four Ross Macdonald Novels of the 1950s ~, April 29, 2015
The Canadian-American author born Kenneth Millar spent most of his career writing as Ross Macdonald (not to be confused with suspense writer John D. MacDonald) and most of his novels were told through the eyes of Lew Archer, a detective with whom Macdonald would become as closely identified as Danshiell Hammett with Sam Spade or Mickey Spillane with Mike Hammer. While Macdonald's considerable output drew admiration from authors as disparate as Eudora Welty and William Goldman, comparisons are more closely drawn to Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe due to the author's pithy, "hardboiled" detective writing style and greater psychological nuance.

Despite Ross Macdonald's over forty novels, and despite several of them having been made into successful motion pictures in the 1960s such as HARPER starring Paul Newman, his reputation has waxed and waned. This may be because Macdonald eschewed the gritty big cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco where previous California detective writers had set their stories in favor of smaller, frequently pseudonymous locales, such as "Pacific Point" for La Jolla, or "Santa Teresa" (Santa Barbara). It would be a mistake, though, to assume that because Macdonald's novels take place in a more pleasant, suburban locale, that they lack depth. Natonal Public Radio, in a piece originally aired April 21, 2015 and entitled "Revisiting a Suburbia-Gone-Sour" mentioned the thematic influence Macdonald's novels have had on authors such as John Cheever, Tom Perrotta, and even the early seasons of television's MAD MEN. Other critics have commented favorably on the psychological depth of Macdonald's characters and the fact that his novels are a skillful blend of the "whodunit" and the psychological thriller. As such, his plot resolutions depend as much on insight into the characters (and their families) who serve as his clients as much as logic.

The Library of America has done the reading world a big favor with yesterday's publication of four Ross Macdonald novels: THE WAY SOME PEOPLE DIE, THE BARBAROUS COAST, THE DOOMSTERS, and THE GALTON CASE represent MacDonald's finest, though some aficionados might have wished that the theme had been stretched to 1961 to include THE WYCHERLY WOMAN. The generous (900-page) volume also includes some of Macdonald's nonfiction writings and a generous appraisal by editor Tom Nolan. While LoA volumes of this kind tend to feature thinnish paper and smallish type, this new volume is a fine bargain, especially in hardbound issue. It is also happy that the Library of America, in this publication, has put its imprimatur upon Ross Macdonald as a "serious" American writer. While this new issue may not greatly boost Ross Macdonald's readership or literary reputation (one thinks of LoA's two-volume treatment of Dawn Powell nearly fifteen years ago, which did neither), it is greatly welcome. Not just fans but newcomers too would do well to pick up FOUR NOVELS OF THE 1950s at this compelling price.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 4, 2015 4:01 AM PDT


In the Land of Invented Languages: Adventures in Linguistic Creativity, Madness, and Genius
In the Land of Invented Languages: Adventures in Linguistic Creativity, Madness, and Genius
by Arika Okrent
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.04
74 used & new from $4.16

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The low-down on invented languages by a knowledgeable and witty researcher/writer, April 22, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Whatever happened to Esperanto -- is it still ticking? And Volapuek, does anyone still speak it? Here's the low-down on invented languages, starting with the mystical Seventeeth and enlightened Eighteen centuries, when serious attempts were made not only to name BUT TO ORDER every word out there in wholly new languages that would be not only rational but would unpack our (now we know) unpackable universe. Then came the One Worlders: the rise of nationalism in the Nineteenth Century provoked a reaction in Esperanto, Ido, Volapeuk and other invented languages that were meant to cross national boundaries, be easy to learn, have simplified grammars, and generally pull humankind together. Those movements generally went into decline after the Second World War. However, don't accept the blithe assumptions that English has become the world's *lingua franca* and that's that. A lot more is going on and new invented languages are popping up all the time, though often, as with the "Blissymbol" system, they find uses other than pure communication. (Blessedly, author Akira Okrent knows just when to stop shy of entering the realm of computer languages, so if you're looking for a taste of Fortran, Cobal or Linux, go elsewhere.) A recurring theme in this insightful work is that no perfect language can be obtained because by the time one can be compiled, the social uses of it change and prompt either schisms or evolutions in the invented language. An example of breach is Loglan, whose adherents so strongly rebelled against its conservative founder that they came up with Lojban, originally meant to incorporate changes the master would not permit. (For the record, these are both difficult and complicated languages and would probably have any old-school Esperantist shaking his *kapo* (or her *kapa*) in dismay.) Esperanto itself is an example of a created language refusing to remain static, as younger speakers casually drop the "n" accusative ending of nouns much as English-speakers commonly dismiss with terminal "g" from our words, and slang expressions and colorful idioms continue to thrive.

The benefit of IN THE LAND OF INVENTED LANGUAGES is that Okrent knows whereof she speaks -- she's a professional linguist with double Ph.D.'s from the University of Chicago in both Linguistics and Cognition/Cognitive Science. A born language nut and polyglot; what she doesn't know she set out to follow in compiling this book, and shares with us in a very witty manner. (On first encountering one formerly promising language, she first looks up "s--t" in their dictionary to see if it's there.) While this book is great fun to read, and can go into constructed languages or "conlangs" I would never have imagined (a pro-feminist language that has separate words for experiences such as "to menstruate joyfully" or "to menstruate painfully"), at times I feel the author could have been a bit more comprehensive without sacrificing her tone of informed breeziness. For instance, she says next to nothing about the "Latine sine flexione"/Interlingua/IA family of languages that were thought to be Europe's savior during much of the late Nineteenth and Twentieth Century, but with the help of the Klingon annual conference does go on and on (entertainingly, to be sure) about that language and its structure, in particularly the earthers who try to speak it. It may or may not be a sign of these times that the One World attempts to simplify language of 125 years ago have given way to the First World problem of mass communication being solved by Klingon, designed from scratch by one savant to be as difficult as possible, a warrior's language for a fictive warrior people. (Leave it to Okrent to find some humor even here: the Klingon word for "buttocks" is simply "tuchis" spelled backward, but such obvious mnemonics are quite rare.) IN THE LAND OF INVENTED LANGUAGES is fun, informative, but to this observer could have been a bit more substantive. Nonetheless, read it anyway.


The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
by Erik Larson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.99
1366 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it -- it's great, April 22, 2015
This is a wonderful book; the only thing that kept me from reading it for ten years is that I had somehow gleaned the impression that it was a postmodernist novel and not a history with some novelistic touches. In fact, author Larson acknowledges Truman Capote's IN COLD BLOOD as a stylistic influence in setting mood and relating event. DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY smashes two opposing forces together: the planners and builders, architects and designers (most notably Frederick Law Olmstead and Daniel Burnham) who lobbied Congress to get the first American world's fair built in Chicago in 1893, the World's Columbian Exposition, and to make it as outstanding in its way as the Paris exposition had just a few years later (and resulted in the Eiffel Tower). Although largely forgotten and insufficiently celebrated, this was not only the USA's first world's fair but also the vehicle that gave us Cracker Jack, Shredded Wheat, "exotic" (i.e., Mideastern) dancers and the Ferris Wheel. That's the "white" part of this book.

The "black" part is the non-temporary, aspiring, pollluted, corrupt, highly productive remainder of Chicago. The leader of the "black" forces in this book are a man named Holmes under whose tutlelage impressionable young women and hastily married widows took up with him and then disappeared, along with numerous children. Holmes was not an official part of the Columbian Exposition planning mechanism, but he and his minions interwove with the fair enough in fact that Larson does not have to resort to contrivance or "faction" to highlight this interweaving. Then there's a very minor figure in the book, a Mr. Prendergast, who has managed to convince himself that he deserves more than he has earned: specifically, an important post with the City of Chicago. His ludicrous mindset serves as comic relief thoughout this book, until the evil he perpetuates cannot be ignored.

DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY brings forth a kneejerk term in me: it is one of the most "compulsively readable" books I've been to lately, and even the minutiae of fair planning and settling squabbles among a score of architects from Chicago and elsewhere, reads well. Along the way the many characters, medium-sized and minor, who populate this book and plan for the Exposition or visit it are all anyone could ask for in local color, with enough plot motivation to carry a fictional novel or two, and all in Larson's inimitably crafted prose. The only thing I didn't really care for about the book was that Larson apparently took IN COLD BLOOD, which contained no photographs or other artwork until a deluxe edition came out last year, rather too literally as to pictorial documentation. Unusual for a history set in the 1890s, DEVIL is devoid of photos except for a few formal, posed photographs to head each chapter, and a rather watery overview map of the fairgrounds. (Those who seek a visual correletive for the show can find it in LOST CHICAGO and other histories of that era of Chicago history).

After the fair was over (and some attendees actually sang "After the Ball" on the way home), the fairgrounds disappeared quickly -- they deteriorated and were deliberately burnt down except for one installation, which today is the building of the Museum of Science and Industry on the edge of the old fairgrounds near Lake Michigan. Thank heaven we have this book to put the whole thing together.

Lost Chicago.


Butterfinger Nest Eggs, 10 oz
Butterfinger Nest Eggs, 10 oz
Offered by University-Of-Style
Price: $7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Prepare to be Disappointed, April 21, 2015
The saying "Ain't nothing like the real thing" woefully applies here. These "Butterfinger Nest Eggs" are really colorfully wrapped chocolate of no real distinction shot thru with a very small amount of a Butterfinger-like substance. But there isn't nearly enough of the "crispety, crunchety, peanut-buttery" taste to make a difference in the overall flavor. (In fact, if you cut one of these in two you'll see that it looks like chocolate without a hint of Butterfinger's signature orange color). People who expect their peanut or peanut butter-based candy to actually taste of peanuts would be better off with Palmer's Peanut Butter Eggs, selections from the Reese's family (Reese's Pieces, Cups, etc.), or of course genuine Butterfinger bars.


SethRoberts-Classic Cashmere Feel Men's Winter Scarf in Rich Plaids (BLACK)
SethRoberts-Classic Cashmere Feel Men's Winter Scarf in Rich Plaids (BLACK)
Offered by tiny-deal
Price: $4.82
11 used & new from $4.81

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Okay scarf for the price, April 18, 2015
This is the brown version of a scarf that comes in many, many colors -- actually it's more of a predominant black with brown trim. I'm of two minds about this -- it is large enough for the new "loop" trend in wearing scarves. Surprisingly comfortable to me, even though it is acrylic (I have a full beard, so I don't have to worry about beard stubble irritating me, as a prior reviewer said). It is made in China and took every bit as much time to get here as we were told. On the other hand it is gloriously cheap, and has a wide variety of colors. Perhaps it's worth stocking up for cold weather now in the Southern Hemisphere, or cold weather eventually here up North.


Classic Whodunits
Classic Whodunits
by Stanley Smith
Edition: Hardcover
93 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good, cheap, April 16, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Classic Whodunits (Hardcover)
Fun "whodunit" vignettes of just a few pages apiece, with the solutions in the back of the book. Even armchair sleuths will not be able to solve all of these. Used copies are surprisingly cheap.


ITI IFBE-115 Belmont Iced Stainless Steel Tea Spoon, 12-Piece
ITI IFBE-115 Belmont Iced Stainless Steel Tea Spoon, 12-Piece
Price: $18.57
2 used & new from $4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fit my set very well, April 15, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
When I ordered this set of a dozen ITI IFBE-115 Belmont Iced Stainless Steel Tea Spoons (sometimes called "long drink" spoons), I wanted a set at a reasonable price and of good quality. The fact that the pattern matches anything I've owned with "Bead" in the title (such as "Conitinental Bead") was a plus. These are well worth the money, well-made, the pattern crisp as something in Bead really should be. They are of medium weight, not as heavy as my Waterford stainless, but then few things are. I suspect the alloy content is 18/0, the eighteen indicating they will look nice and hard and bright (as they do), the lack of "8" or "10" to the right of the formula indicating that they are not extremely nick-resistant as the better sets are. But then, using these for the stated purpose of stirring sugar into iced tea, they are not likely to nick. Really a good deal at this price. Made in China.


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