Every Note Played, by Lisa Genova


This novel by Lisa Genova focuses on ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and captures the sequence of events that the body goes through as it’s life is taken away, beginning with paralysis and progressing to death.  The experience that the disease presents in loss of muscle control and degeneration is so clearly presented that it alone may leave the reader in tears, but Genova brings Richard Evans the person clearly into focus.

Richard is a famous concert classical pianist, known for his technique, and he loses any use of his hands early in the story. Every finger of his hands was like a finely calibrated instrument and the music he played was exact and flawless.

His x-wife who is also an accomplished pianist can clearly relate to what those loses mean, but their marriage ended years ago and she and her daughter, Grace, have only had a distant relationship with Richard for years. Their relationships have ample issues and fault on all sides that must be dealt with as Richards life comes apart.

The emotional strain on Richard, his wife and daughter, are met head on in dealing with this disease, and in some ways their life's issues seem to be the more important message of the book. The step by step debilitation of Richards body, and the treatments and life sustaining equipment challenges, seem to fold into situations that force him to deal with his failed marriage, estranged daughter and his unresolved feeling towards his father.

The thought of Richard having to be left with nothing but these unresolved issues, and only the blink of an eye to communicate, and hope to resolve them, is an additional level of terror that this disease offers. Somehow, they do find some resolution.

It might be possible that ALS was the only way he really had to resolve his bigger life issues but then that seems something beyond fair.

This may be Lisa Genova's best book yet.


“What’s the saying? Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." 

“Everything begins and ends. Every day and night, every concerto, every relationship, every life. Everything ends eventually.” 

“Love isn’t measured by the number of hours a person logs.” 


Lisa Genoa

Neuroscientist and New York Times bestselling author


Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo


Love and compassion is found among those that live in poverty-"the miserable" ones.  This is the most important gift that one person can give another in life & this is the clear message of Les Miserables, the book.

It was one of the greatest novels of the 19th century and it starts out with Jean Valjean just released from 19 years' in prison, for stealing bread for his starving sister and her family. He can't find a place to stay because of his prison time is clearly marked on his passport.

A church bishop helps him and he narrowly escapes being arrested again. Valjean steals again, is discovered and he leaves the area with the police on his trail. 

He establishes himself with another name, in another town, where during the 6 years he spends there, he becomes a wealthy factory owner, and is appointed mayor of a town. One day he is walking down the street and he stops and lifts a loaded cart, to free a trapped man. This raises the curiosity of the local police inspector who knew Valjean years ago-he remembers how strong he was.

A women named Fantine had been abandoned, with her young child Cosette, years earlier in Paris. She had made her way to this same small town and left her daughter in the care of a local  corrupt innkeeper and his mean wife. Unlike the play where this couple was in some ways funny they were pure evil in the book. By working at a local plant owned by Valjean she is able to pay the innkeeper and his wife to take care of Cosette. Fantine doesn't know how bad it is for her daughter with these people. She loses her job in the factory and she is living on the street with no money to pay for her daughters care. She sells her hair and her front teeth to get money and then is forced to becomes a prostitute.  She knows she can't continue this way as she is dying from a disease. She is arrested and taken to a hospital.

The mayor, Valjean, learns where she is and feels bad that she is in this trouble, having had to fire her, so he tries to help. He gets Cosette at the innkeepers, and they go to the hospital.

This story has many twists and turns. Before long Valjean  is identified & imprisoned. This is such a shock to Fantine that she dies from it. Valjean escapes, but is  recaptured, and  sentenced to death.  While imprisoned he saves a sailors life. He then fakes his own death by appearing to have drowned. He goes to get Cosette and they run. 


Years later Cosette has grown up. He has helped many people as well as helping the young revolutionaries of his day.  When he is finally found out again it is the kindness he has shown to so many over the years that saves him. 

Song: I Dreamed a Dream

The play, Les Miserables, has so many great songs.  The song “I Dreamed a Dream” is a favorite of mine. It is sung by the character Fantine, in the first act of the play.  She has just been fired from her job at the factory and thrown onto the streets. She thinks back to happier days and wonders at all that has gone wrong in her life. The song touches us, as we all think about our lives past and future


“And remember, the truth that once was spoken: To love another person is to see the face of God.” 

“Nobody loves the light like the blind man.”

“Dying is nothing; what’s terrible is not to live.” 

 “People weighed down with troubles do not look back; they know only too well that misfortune stalks them.” 

Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo is one of the greatest and best-known French writers. Outside of France, his most famous works are the novels Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame


Animal Farm, by George Orwell


Take George Orwell at his word. As he reaffirmed in his book, “Why I Write” (see review of that book) he wrote that "Animal Farm was the first book that he wrote with full consciousness of what he was doing, to fuse political and artistic purpose into one whole". The political purpose was to speak out against Lenin, Stalin and those voices of communism that were being embraced in 1945 when this book was published. The farmyard and the animals were the allegorical means that Orwell used.

The story begins in the farmyard where the animals rebel. An old boar pig named Old Major and two young pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, call a meeting of the farm animals and they tell everyone that the humans are enemies. They adopt seven commandments of Animalism, the first of which is that “all animals are equal”. Then they drive off the farmer and all his help and take over the farm. Snowball distinguishes himself in the battle and ongoing efforts to protect the farm. Napoleon discredits Snowball and forces him out stealing his ideas and establishing himself as the clear leader.

Napoleon expands his power by using a committee of pigs who become the managers of the farm. A neighboring farmer attacks the farm, but he is defeated. A popular donkey , Benjamin, is hurt badly, and Napoleon has him taken away in a van. He is supposed to be going to a hospital but instead he is sold off to a glue factory and the money is used to buy whiskey for the pigs. The pigs are in full control and seem to be smart enough to run the farm, but they become corrupted with greed. The rest of the animals seem to have lost some of their initial concerns with the pigs with the loss of Benjamin they seem to resign themselves to the memory of one of the donkey sayings: “Life will go on as it has always gone on- that is, badly”. 

Years pass and many who fought for their freedom and better way of life are dead. The pigs begin wearing clothes and walking upwards and, in their meeting, they abolish the original commandments and change the most important one to say: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

With clothes, and walking on two legs, the pigs start to resemble humans. They decide to reach out to their neighbors and invite the farmers in the area to a dinner to build an alliance. The other animals notice when they come that they all seem to look alike.

The book raises just as many, if not more, questions today as it did in 1945 and is an important book.


"Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer- except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs."

"All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others." 

"Whenever anything went wrong it became usual to attribute it to Snowball." 

Orwell says in his book, "Why I write"

Write for a political purpose-"the desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter people's idea of the kind of society that they should strive after".

Thoughts on Napolean

"Napoleon’s name is no accident. Historically Napoleon ruled France and conquered much of Europe before being defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1814. He too was originally a great liberator, overthrowing Europe’s kings and bringing freedom to its people. But he eventually crowned himself emperor of France, shattering the dreams of European liberalism"


Animal Farm
By George Orwell

Reading the Classics with C.S. Lewis


"Reading the Classic’s with C.S. Lewis", does capture a lot of what is interesting about C.S. Lewis, but it seems like the contributor’s views of those classics chosen are just mixed with some of Lewis’s thoughts.

The bigger question is, which classics, and in what order, would have Lewis chosen to emphasis how he felt, because those choices would have defined his legacy for us, and I don’t think this book does that.

In an early chapter, “Entering Imagined Worlds”, Lewis viewpoint on literature in general is discussed. He says there that “the good of literature is that we want to be more than ourselves. We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own.” He adds to this, and ties the thought together, by saying “We demand windows, even doors, that admit us to experiences, other than our own.

He left the Christianity of his youth, but literature eventually brought him back. His approach to the classics, and to reading, was shown in his insistence that authors like Dante, Spenser or Milton need to be understood by looking deeper into their literary forbears. Seeing a train of thought for various authors suggests that we ought to know more about how Lewis would connect the classic’s presented and what his train of thought was?

Romanticism, as a literary genre, was discussed in the book showing that Lewis felt it was more than what was generally thought during his time. He added the idea that “Sweet Desire” was a concept that should be added to understanding Romanticism.  It explains that it was the search for both a moral direction, and a sense of belonging, in people. He said a longing for more was common in all people.

Lewis’s writings about fantasy, science fiction, and imagination seem to have been the bridge back to Christianity for him, and a genre that allowed him to bring the scared into the mundane world. He said that fairy tales and the traditional treatment of the hero, was often a simile of the coming of Christ.  

Critics continue to try to explain the difference between science fiction and fantasy, but Lewis says that the difference is that science fiction writers expend more effort to make their imaginative worlds seem plausible.

Lewis said, both literary and unliterary, readers can be guilty of using a text by looking for validation of the reader's own beliefs in the work, rather than humbly "receiving" the story the author presented. He said his own view was that “in reading literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad of eye, but it is still I who see.”

I liked the book for the thoughts about Lewis that it pulled together but didn’t think the insight into the classics discussed was really Lewis’s thoughts

Quotes by C.S. Lewis Also see Literary Favorites Section 

“A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.”  

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world. 

Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.  

Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

Educated, A Memoir, Tara Westover is the next post down

Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, written by David Bayles and Ted Orland, is a small book, and is a shot in the arm for motivation and discouragement. The principles can be used by artists in any creative field. 


The book came to be because of some questions the two authors asked themselves. Do artists have anything in common? How do artists become artists? How do artists learn to work on their work? How can I make work that will satisfy me?


Many of the chapters deal with fear. Some focus on what talent is, and it is claimed to be the least important ingredient. 

The shot in the arm is more motivational, in its intent, than technical. The deep secret discussed is that the artist needs to just keep working. Don’t stop. Speed is ok. Learn from your mistakes, but learn while you go, and don’t stop your work.  It’s ok if new work makes old work look weak. 

The book differs from art books which traditionally say little about making art, suggesting that it is the product of genius.  This book says that it doesn’t matter if you’re a Mozart and that there won’t be more Mozart’s anyway.  

The book brags about the fact that it doesn’t have a section on “creativity”, and boldly says; “Why should it”? The point being that all people can confront problems, dream, and live in the real world, and breathe air?

So, the book is useful for a shot in the arm, or if you want you can just skip that and get to work. Learn from what you have done not from thinking about it. 


“When you hold back, it holds back; when you hesitate, it stands there staring, hands in its pockets. But when you commit, it comes on like blazes.”

 “As far as most people are concerned, art may be acceptable as a profession, but certainly not as an occupation.”

“It’s been a tough century for modesty, craftsmanship and tenderness.”

 “Fears about artmaking fall into two families: fears about yourself and fears about your reception by others.”

 “The only work really worth doing — the only work you can do convincingly — is the work that focuses on the things you care about. To not focus on those issues is to deny the constants in your life.

”Most artists don’t daydream about making great art—they daydream about having made great art.”

Walden; Or, Life In The Woods, by Henry David Thoreau


Henry David Thoreau was a transcendentalist who is best known for his book, Walden, Life in the Woods. Published in 1854, the book focuses on his experiences over two years, two months and two days in a cabin that he built near Walden Pond and the surrounding area. He was supposed to have, during this time, been so submerged in nature, living off the land and self-sufficient, that his transcendentalist philosophy was validated by this experience.

With the organized religions and political parties of the day behind him he was free to focus on nature. This time became a source of metaphorical and poetic insight into life. The plants and animals were part of a natural balance, personal declaration of independence, and self-reliance that connects him with the universe.

He said of this experience: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

It was his friend Emerson that owned the land and even told him when it was time to come back. The cabin was built within sight if a road. His was indeed a Spartan-like approach, but it seems likely that the "meanness of life", he said he wanted to feel, may not have been as deep as he assumed.

Quotes by Henry David Thoreau

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

 “Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.” 

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”

 “Things do not change; we change.”

"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live"

By Henry David Thoreau

Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

This post has been moved forward, from May 5th, where it originally was reviewed. See the review of  "Shakespeare The Invention of the Human, by Harold Bloom" which is yesterdays post. Also she the "Literary Favorites" Tab for the current post on Shakespeare, or the Past Reviews for other reviews.


The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, usually just referred to as Hamlet takes place in Denmark. Claudius has murdered his brother, the King, and married his widow to take over the Kingdom. The Ghost of Hamlet’s father appears to Hamlet and the play focuses on Prince Hamlet’s revenge.

Hamlet is one of if not the most performed plays of Shakespeare and is his longest play. William Shakespeare is considered the master of the human condition. That must mean all that a life encounters but here one of those conditions is death.

In Hamlet Act 3 the conditions of prayer, repentance, and perhaps murder is considered. Claudius wants to kill the King, who is watching a play, and so he waits for a chance to do so. After the play Claudius goes to do his deed and overhears him praying. He hesitates and waits. He fears that being killed in the act of prayer, may be like confession to God, would enable the person to go directly to heaven. Claudius leaves and Hamlet finishes his prayer and says these words:

"My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.

Is it just that prayer is often insincere? Is it that insincerity is judged by a God as He hears the words, or is it that the person knows as he prays that he doesn't mean it? He knows he didn't put much thought into?

What about words with thoughts? What does that really mean? How does that work? Is it enough, to have deep thoughts before speaking, to make what you say sincere? Does it take a lot of thought or is a certain amount of time required?

Maybe the human condition, as far as getting your words "up" and heard, is just one of intent? Are prayers offered to get gain and forgiveness, or to express sorrow or is it none of these?

These questions bring substance to the expression: "words fly up". Shakespeare seems to know that praying is something that needs some pondering

Quotes by William Shakespeare

There is nothing good or bad, only thinking makes it so.- Hamlet

Hell is empty and the devils are here.- William Shakespeare

Though this be madness yet their is method in it.- William Shakespeare


By William Shakespeare

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