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Jim Baumer "Reading Matters" RSS Feed (Portland, ME USA)

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A Life Lived Outdoors: Reflections of a Maine Sportsman
A Life Lived Outdoors: Reflections of a Maine Sportsman
by George A. Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.04
37 used & new from $9.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Writing about Maine by a true Mainer, July 31, 2014
George Smith is the voice of Maine's outdoor enthusiasts. The former president of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine (SAM) has been writing about Maine and issues pertaining to hunting, fishing, and rural life for more than two decades.

His new book is a very readable assortment of columns Smith wrote for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel over that period, as well as some new material penned specifically for this book. Smith offers writing that accurately captures Maine's vibrant natural beauty and myriad outdoor opportunities. Along the way, he also slips in his thoughts about rural life, the demise of the small dairy farm, hunting culture, and Maine's lost opportunity to promote its abundant inland fishing.

This is writing that has a lived-in quality and it's that appeal that really commends this book about Maine to anyone who lives here, or who wants to better understand our unique local culture.

I've been recommending it as one of my top 2014 summer reads, so order a copy and tuck the book into your beach bag, or sit down with it on the screened-in porch after dinner, appreciating his paean to the state he loves, in that special summer quiet, with the Red Sox game crackling in the background on the radio.


Worumbo
Worumbo
Price: $2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I know what you're thinking, March 15, 2014
This review is from: Worumbo (Kindle Edition)
I read very little genre fiction and if I do, it’s never horror/suspense. However, since Mr. LaFlamme was gracious enough to sit with me for an interview for an article I was writing on writers like him who go the independent publishing route, I should read another one of his books.

My one other Mark LaFlamme reading experience was from a few years ago and was his novel, "The Pink Room." It was ok, but it didn’t capture me like "Worumbo" did.

Maybe it was the setting of the book--an old abandoned mill in Lisbon Falls--my hometown. Perhaps it was because the surroundings of the novel--Lewiston and the fictional town of Myrtle--an enhanced Lisbon Falls, I’d gather, with about four times the population and some additional accoutrements given by the author made me feel right at home.

Then again, the plot had me intrigued; a young boy who grows up into an adult who can read thoughts. One who becomes a newspaper reporter, and a secret government experiment gone awry, housed in the creepy old mill in the center of downtown Lisbon Falls. That alone was enough to pick up the book. LaFlamme’s writing kept me going for four days of reading, and it was hard to put down and go about my daily work tasks of making a living, only to anxiously pick it up each night to find out what was next for Jack Wilding and his special, terrifying ability, or “gift,” as a colleague refers to it.

I’ve described LaFlamme before as “a poor man’s Stephen King,” but that does him a disservice. I read King’s book, "11/22/63," also touching down in Lisbon Falls and the old Worumbo Mill. While I enjoyed the book, I felt the book was about 200 pages too long and could have used tighter editing.

LaFlamme’s book, clocking in at 322 pages, left me disappointed when it came crashing to an end.

This book was one of my favorite reads of any I’ve read in the past couple of years and I read 30+ books a year, although it’s mainly nonfiction. Fiction, or not, LaFlamme is a damn talented writer, who also is a successful journalist by day.

I’m surely going to be reading another Mark LaFlamme novel before the close of my reading calendar. If you haven’t read LaFlamme yet, what are you waiting for?


Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline
Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline
by Morris Berman
Edition: Hardcover
28 used & new from $21.70

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great alternative narrative, January 13, 2012
"Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline" is Morris Berman's latest installment in a trilogy of books by one of our most prescient and important social and cultural critics. As he's been doing for over a decade, Dr. Berman looks at America at this particular juncture and offers a diagnosis that isn't a pretty one. Believers in the American myth of never-ending progress and technology's capacity to save us will be sorely disappointed, if not downright angry. They'll dismiss Berman as a crank, or perhaps worse for someone like Berman that cares about his subject--ignoring him and his work altogether. That would be a tragedy in my opinion, not heeding what Berman has to offer.

In his prior two books on America's decline as an international power, Berman carefully and methodically made the case that our country had descended into a place of cultural ignorance that was affecting our ability to function as a nation. In "Why America Failed," Berman picks up where "Dark Ages America" left off and picks up on the continuing debate among certain kinds of historians about America's trajectory as a nation.

While the book begins a bit slowly in my opinion, with Berman citing multiple sources, once things get rolling, they move quickly. Berman doesn't dilly dally around, but quickly makes his point, drawing on the work of a multitude of respected sources and writers. This allows him to make a strong case that America's been a nation of "hustlers" since the get-go, which Berman comes back to regularly throughout WAF.

Chapter 4, titled, "The Rebuke of History" is the book's strongest and most compelling, in my opinion. Berman knew he'd be misperceived and wrote about it on his blog. The chapter deals with the Civil War, what Shelby Foote called the defining event in American history.

"Why America Failed" is the book that all Americans should be reading. It would help them understand the nation that they proudly hail as something that it's not, and a national period of self-reflection might cleanse our culture of its hubris. Now I know I'm delusional for even thinking what I just wrote. One can dream, however, right?

Berman ends the book with what I think is a very honest assessment. He again mentions what led him to leave the country. He also discusses how most writers, when completing a work like this one, contradict what they've written by pulling a "rabbit out of the hat" at the eleventh hour. Berman does no such thing and he discusses why he doesn't.

Berman concludes with a reflection on what he sees as the hows and whys of America's collapse. This collapse, according to Berman, won't be immediate, or dramatic, but a slow, but steady demise. He calls this Act III (a), where the alternative tradition, existing on the margins, may gain followers and provide some solace for a fraction of Americans. This would be a type of "monastic option." Politically, it may take the form of an OWS protest movement. Individually, it might mean learning to grow your own food, embracing the best of the "appropriate technologies" that were promoted by E.F. Schumacher in his book Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, which came out in 1973 and highlighted technologies that were appropriately scaled, and sustainable. Maybe learning and beginning to use skills that your grandparents possed 50-60 years ago.

These are things that those on the fringes recognize from the direction the wind is blowing and will begin taking steps in preparation for a future that will be vastly different.


Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays
Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays
by Eula Biss
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.19
141 used & new from $1.92

25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eula Biss: Essayist extraordinaire, June 13, 2009
Several weeks ago, I happened upon Eula Biss reading her essay, "Time and Distance Overcome" on C-SPAN's BookTV. She was in the midst of the essay, which uses telephone poles to convey several themes about America, including the inherent racism represented by our history.

The telephone pole allowed wires to be strung, linking communities and eventually the entire country. We now view this and Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the telephone as wondrous things. Biss points out in her essay that Americans at that time opposed telephone poles vociferously.

She writes about the New York Times in 1889 reporting a "War on Telephone Poles." Biss tells us that as soon as the telephone company erected a new pole, home owners and business owners would saw it down, even resorting to defending their properties from telephone poles with rifles.

According to Biss, newspaper editorials at the time considered telephone poles as contributors to urban blight.

Telephone poles also made convenient stations upon which to lynch blacks, something I never learned in history class, and wouldn't have known, if this essay by Biss, contained in her collection of essays, Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays.

Biss doesn't blame telephone poles. They were merely an instrument, a practical one at that given that they were tall and straight, had a cross bar, and they stood in public places, making them great for humiliation and degradation, key elements of lynchings.

Writing about telephone poles and lynchings might seem perverse, and evoke discomfort from readers, Biss conveys something about America in this essay, about racism from our nation's past that is not common knowledge, even though telephone poles are ubiquitous.

Her essays are like that. She looks at things, like race in America, and the prevalence of fear in our country, through a lens somewhat altered from the norm.

We also learn from Biss that her father told her that her grandfather was a telephone lineman and "broke his back when a telephone pole smashed him against the road."

While all of the essays have a thematic center, which is race in America, a subject fraught with peril for any writer, Biss never comes across as heavy-handed, or haranguing readers, and the essays aren't about ideological axe-grinding.

Throughout "Notes from No Man's Land," Biss regularly shows her adeptness and skill as a writer, tackling tough subjects in each essay, but always with a twist or turn that took you somewhere different than you originally thought you were going. In the process, you admired the journey, and how Biss made you think about her points.

This is Biss's first full-length work, made possible when she won Graywolf's Nonfiction Prize for 2008.

I'm sure this will be the first of many books from Biss, as this first book of essays is a winner.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 4, 2012 9:17 PM PDT


Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America
Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America
by Matthew Avery Sutton
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.66
44 used & new from $8.21

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Giving "Sister Aimee" her due, May 24, 2009
Long before megachurches and names like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen became commingled with American Christianity, Aimee Semple McPherson was America's key religious figure, representing fundamentalism and old-time religion in America between the two World Wars. She was America's most famous and certainly flamboyant minister, during the 1920s, 1930s, and even into the early 1940s. Given the scope of her influence, and thorough remaking of the country's religious landscape, it is unfortunate that so few within, and without the confines of American Christendom know about "Sister Aimee" today.

While there have been books detailing McPherson's life before (both Edith Blumhofer and Daniel Epstein produced solid works about McPherson) Matthew Avery Sutton's Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America is the first book that places her firmly within the cultural, political, and religious milieu of her era.

The book, which came out in 2007, avoids some the traps of previous treatments of McPherson's life--the stereotypes and caricature so often attendant with this early 20th century religious icon.

Avery does an excellent job of highlighting the context of the period when McPherson's star began to rise. From simple beginnings on a farm in Ontario, McPherson would utilize the new media of her day, particularly radio, to draw upon the burgeoning appeal of popular entertainment, and the development of modern day Hollywood.

While there is no doubt that McPherson would have attained a measure of fame and notoriety regardless of where she put down roots, the city of Los Angeles during the 1920s was the perfect place for someone with McPherson's gifts, charisma, and sexual aura to be living. It is Avery's ability to place McPherson within this context, and his understanding of its importance that makes his book the standout that it is.

Avery clearly makes the case that it was McPherson who deserves credit for the megachurch movement, and the political strength exhibited by the religious right, and figures such as James Dobson.

Eighty years ago, fundamentalism floundering. It was on the ropes, after taking an uppercut to the jaw from the Scopes Trial, and repeated attacks from liberal theologians like Fosdick, making claims that modern science invalidated the fundamentalist theology. McPherson and her allies reshaped the "old-time religion" and found new ways to promote it and connect it to changes happening in mainstream American culture.

Avery's book is well-researched, without being overly pedantic, or unnecessarily scholarly. This isn't to say that it doesn't hold up well as a strong source of historical documentation.

He takes a very even-handed approach to an important 20th century figure, one that is sadly underrepresented in the 21st century, and should be, given the importance of who she was, and what she represented, particularly her role model for women, as a religious and cultural pioneer.

The book should appeal to anyone wanting to broaden their understanding of America and early 20th century history. It also is a very strong work on the phenomenon of urban growth in the last century, particularly Los Angeles, and its ascendancy to becoming one of the nation's great cities.


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