The Painted Word, by Tom Wolfe

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If you approach Tom Wolfe’s book, The Painted Word, skeptical as to why an accomplished writer would write a critic of Modern Art, then your likely to still be asking that question when you finish.  Wolfe’s premise is that Modern Art or Abstract Expressionism, which became popular after World War 11, is incomprehensible, hard to look at, and produces anxiety.  He says the essential principal of this art is flatness and that three-dimensional effects are pre-modern having been around since the Renaissance. He says that flatness becomes a goal diluting meaning and message.

Wolfe claims his righteous indignation was the result of what was his reading in the Sunday New York Times in April 1974 when he was surprised to find this paragraph:

“Realism does not lack its partisans, but it does rather conspicuously lack persuasive theory. And given the nature of our intellectual commerce with the works of art, to lack a persuasive theory is to lack something crucial- the means by which our experience of individual works is joined to our understanding of the values they signify.”

This may be the reason he wrote the book, but it looks a lot like a bandwagon that came by and he jumped on to tell the world that the modern artists really don’t have anything to say and, of course, the best and meaningful message is from the writers.

Wolfe refers to the well-educated people who appreciate the arts, saying this smug elite group have made the decision as to what art is for everyone.  This is disturbing to him because he sees it changing a world order that he prides himself in understanding, and believes that the contemporary artists, conspiring with the elites, are changing things for no definable reason.

Tom Wolfe’s message is to critique Abstract Expressionism, which he says evolved to Minimalism and then to Conceptual Art. His real message may be just an approach to satire the social life and radical politics of the art world, and of course to tell us how smart he is.

Quotes by Tom Wolfe

“Andy Warhol. Nothing is more bourgeois than to be afraid to look bourgeois” 

“Aesthetics is for the artists as ornithology is for the birds,” 

“All of them, artists and theorists, were talking as if their conscious aim was to create a totally immediate art, lucid, stripped of all the dreadful baggage of history, an art fully revealed, honest, as honest as the flat-out integral picture plane.” 

 

 

The Midnight Line, by Lee Child

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The Midnight Line, by Lee Child is a Jack Reacher novel. The Reacher character stays basically the same and the action of the story resonates with the others this author has written - currently 29.

Reacher gets off a bus at one of the first rest stops, intending to go to the end of the line, off to nowhere special, when he walks by a pawn shop and sees a small women’s West Point class ring in the window. He knows how hard they are to earn, especially for a woman, from his own years at the school. He sees that the ring has 3 initials inscribed inside: he buys it and decides to try to find the owner and return it.

He pushes the pawn shop owner for the source, and then moves up the chain of supply, which eventually mix with opioid dealers and trouble -of course. Along the way he is joined with a former FBI agent and Mackenzie, the sister of Rose, the ring ’s owner.

Arthur Scorpio’s laundromat in Rapid City, S.D. is a hub for an illegal opiate business and that contact suggests that Rose may be in Wyoming. The descriptions of the empty countryside seem to be a natural setting for what may be a sadness that is settling into the character Reacher.

We learn a lot about illegal use of opiate drugs and heroin both referred to as American products. Of course, the story has some fights with tough guys, expected in Reacher books. 

The last part of the book offers some tenderness, maybe a surprise to Reacher fans, but the book is another one that you won’t want to put down.

Quotes: The Midnight Line

“I could tell you, but then I’d have to bill you.”

"The Zip Code is about the size of Chicago. With five people. But hey, welcome to Wyoming.” 

“Her eyes were green, and they were warm and liquid with some kind of deep, dreamy satisfaction. There was sparkle, muted, like winking sunlight on a woodland stream. And bitter amusement. She was mocking him, and herself, and the whole wide world.” 


“We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” 
 

 

Bossypants by Tina Fey

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"Bossypants" is Tina Fey, the first female head writer at Saturday Night Live and producer and head writer for 30 Rock where 200 people depended on her for their jobs. The name may also describe her managementtechnique.

She presents herself as a funny half Greek girl, nerdy, self-confident, and clearly having an amazing sense of timing, but also implying that she is still who she has always been.

Her stories present a clear view of double standards that women are held to in her world saying that some people finding her impersonation of Sarah Palin as "ungracious" was, to her mind, the perfect example of that. She adds: “Palin is not fragile and she, Fey, is not mean.”

A life lesson she says she learned from improv comedy:  "Always agree"; "Make Statements"; "There are no mistakes only opportunities".

She has never been afraid to make comedy out of female vulnerability. The audience loves it but it is likely not just funny but a clear message.

The book is not a memoir, but it does tell us a lot about her life experiences and what brought her to her current success.  A memorable comment about when she interviewed for “Saturday Night Live” was “Only in comedy does and obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity.’

“Bossypaints” will be for many a book they will read in one setting.

Quotes by Tina Fey

“Some people say, “Never let them see you cry.” I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.”

 “Do your thing and don't care if they like it.” 

“It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because you don’t like something, it is empirically not good. I don’t like Chinese food, but I don’t write articles trying to prove it doesn’t exist.”

"My ability to turn good news into anxiety is rivaled only by my ability to turn anxiety into chin acne.” 

“To say I’m an overrated troll, when you have never even seen me guard a bridge, is patently unfair.” 

“Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.”

“If you retain nothing else, always remember the most important rule of beauty, which is: who cares?” 

“Don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions; go over, under, through, and opinions will change organically when you’re the boss. Or they won’t. Who cares? Do your thing, and don’t care if they like it.” 

The Bookshop of Yesterdays, a Novel, by Amy Meyerson

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Miranda Brooks is an only child, close to her mother and father and very fond of her uncle Billy.  The story starts: “THE LAST TIME I SAW MY UNCLE, HE BOUGHT ME A DOG. A GOLDEN retriever puppy with sad eyes and a heart-shaped nose. I didn’t have her long enough to give her a name. One moment she was running around my living room with the promise of many adventures together and the next she was gone. It was the same way with Uncle Billy. One moment he was waving goodbye as he reversed out of my driveway. Then I never saw him again”

Billy had an ugly fight with Miranda’s mother, and disappeared on her 12th birthday. Up to that time going to his bookstore, Prospero Books, was something she loved to do, and Billy would let her pick out any book she wanted and often arrange scavenger hunts for her using book titles as clues.

Miranda is living on the east coast, teaching middle school, and in a relationship. It has been 16 years since she has seen Billy when she receives unexpected news that he has died and left her Prospero Books, which is on the verge of bankruptcy. She returns for funeral and then decides to stay for the summer to try to decide what to do with the bookstore and to find the answers to some questions. She learns that Billy has set up one final scavenger hunt for her that she hopes will provide answers to why he left when she was 12 years old.

The clues left for her are hidden in classics like Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, and Bridge to Terabithia. Some are left in envelopes given to past friends.  The clues clearly lead to her unanswered questions and to many of the people in Billy’s past.

The author leaves us glad that we found Prospero Books and wanting to know the employees of the store, and the other characters more. Miranda finds some surprising answers to the past and for the future.

 

Amy Meyerson

Amy Meyerson teaches writing at the University of Southern California. This is her first novel.

American Wolf, A True Story Of Survival And Obsession In The West by Nate Blakeslee

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A truck arrived in Yellowstone Park on Jan. 12, 1995 carrying eight gray wolves from Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. They became the first wolves to roam Yellowstone since the 1920s when the last pack was killed. By the end of 1996, 31 wolves were relocated to the park.

American Wolf, by Neil Blakeslee, brings two very different points of view into focus to see the impact of the reintroduction of wolves; always a political problem with the hunters and ranchers on one side, and those who loved the wolves on the other. 

Rick McIntyre is a biologist who spent much of his life in this part of the country recording wolf sighting, and what took place in their lives, every day for 15 years.  Many wolves had special tracking collars and McIntyre’s detailed daily notes presented an insightful look into the lives of the wolves. One female wolf, labeled as 832F, was better known to tens of thousands of people as #06 and what we learn about her comprises one side of the issues presented in this book.

To present the other side of the issues the author interviewed many of the hunter’s and also included a lot of detail on the political issues that took place into trying to stop the introduction.

It was intended that the Elk population would be reduced with wolf’s introduction, but much more happened when that happened, and many felt that the wolves saved the park.

The wolves also changed the coyote population which increased the rodent population, which increased bird population.

The streams changed with increase in beaver population, due to more feed being available , since the Elk, being more cautious, were spending less time in the low valleys.

06 was a big, barrel-chested alpha female whose home was in the Lamar Canyon Pack part of the park where she led a strong pack. Rick McIntyre’s notes and knowledge had made this wolf world famous with crowds coming to the park to just get a look at here.

The author interviewed the man that shot 06.  He was a dedicated hunter using the new open hunting season that, after political battles, had opened up near the park. He was proud of his kill and had 06 pelts hanging on the wall of his home. A few weeks earlier, 06’s pack mate, a beta male was shot and killed in Wyoming as well.

The killing of 06 set off a firestorm of controversy about the collision between wildlife management, science, and hunting that occurs at the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park.  The killing led to concerns over whether hunters used the GPS signals to go after these particular wolves.

The collars cost the government $4,000 each providing valuable information over the 17-year study providing invaluable research. 06, her pack mate, and 2 other wolves with collars were shot in the Lamar area along with 10 others near the park borders of which 5 of those also wore collars.

In a story that so clearly shows how important the correct balance in nature is, and which detailed so much about the lives of the wolves, this book is well worth reading.

 

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

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Treasure Island starts in the mid 1700’s where an old sailor, Billy Bones, is hiding out at the Admiral Benbow Inn on the English coast. Billy is concerned that a certain sailor will find him and take his sea chest that contains some money, a journal and a special map.

Jim Hawkins is the innkeeper’s son, an obviously good person right from the start, and the narrator for this story.  Jim is hired by Billy to watch for any sign of a sailor approaching the inn, someone comes, and a confrontation follows. Billy prevails but he soon after has a heart attack. Jim goes through Billy’s things and finds the chest and then the map that shows the way to an island where a big X marks where a treasure of gold is hidden. Jim get some locals team up to buy a ship and sail for the treasure.

As they travel to the shipyards to buy a ship, they hire Long John Silver, a Bristol tavern-keeper as ship's cook. A crew comes together, not without issues, but they set sail for the distant island on the map. Just before the island is sighted, Jim overhears Silver talking with two other crewmen and realizes that Silver and most of the other crew members are pirates who have planned a mutiny. Jim tells the captain and they calculate that they will be seven to nineteen in trying to defend against the mutineers.

When the island is reached the mutiny takes place with the crew separating behind Silver and Captain Trelawney.  Jim and the Captains group get away and set up defenses in a stockade they find. They also find Ben Gunn, a half-crazy Englishman, who tells them that he had already found the treasure and moved it, but he will help them get it if he can return with them.

The pirates had left guards on the ship and the challenge is to hold off the pirates, who out number them, regain control of the ship, and find, move and load the treasure.

A key character is Jim who in the beginning is a timid older child on the verge of manhood, but by the end has matured incredibly. He outwits the pirates, takes control of the ship and saves lives.

The plot is a challenging search for treasure exploring desires, and greed within all the characters. Jim and the captain’s crew gain procession of the treasure. For the pirates, their greed proves irrational and futile and they lose everything.  

Quotes  from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

“Sir, with no intention to take offence, I deny your right to put words into my mouth.” 

“Fifteen men on the Dead Man's Chest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! Drink and the devil had done for the rest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!” 

“Seaward ho! Hang the treasure! It's the glory of the sea that has turned my head.” 

“Dead men don't bite” 

“If it comes to a swinging, swing all, say I.” 

The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean.

 

 

The Good Guy, by Dean Koontz

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Dean Koontz, just like a good movie, sets the mood with the opening scene saying: “Sometimes a mayfly skates across a pond, leaving a brief wake as thin a spider silk and by staying low avoids those birds and bats that feed in flight.” Tim Carrier and Linda Paquette may have both felt they were laying low, but the author tells us in his second chapter that ‘A man’s life can pivot on the smallest hinge of time. No minute is without potential for momentous change, and each tick of the clock might be the voice of Fate whispering a promise or a warning.”

Timothy, a stonemason sitting in a bar, is accidentally mistaken for a hitman by a stranger who hands him an envelope containing $10,000 and a photo of the intended victim, a writer named Linda Paquette. Krait the real killer arrives soon afterwards, and Tim manages to bluff him by pretending to be the client, saying he's had second thoughts, and is cancelling the hit while giving the killer the $10,000 as a "no-kill fee".

Krait learns what happened and comes for Linda, but Tim has tracked her down and they have run, but they barely manage to stay one step ahead of him. The killer seems to have the ability to track cell phones, financial transactions and GPS tracking; implying that he is working for someone very powerful.

Tim and Linda, who seem to have been in love from the moment they met, have many close calls narrowly escaping the killer. Trying to retrace Linda’s life they look for what prompted Linda’s death sentence? Was it a visit to a coffee shop frequented by a senator making shady deals?  Why was that coffee shop burned down and why have other past patrons been killed?

As a first-time reader of Dean Koontz, his talent for his character development can be clearly seen in the character of Krait. We see him as a psychotic vicious killer who personal habits seem to distinguish the danger he represents. He enjoys going into people’s houses and going through their belongings, trashing products and art he doesn’t approve of. He carefully cleans up after himself when he makes meals in the kitchens and puts the products he disposes into the trash cans. 

Each of the characters are convincing and add to the plot. The bar tender where everything started, Liam Rooney, and his wife Michelle, his friend and Policeman-Pete Santo , and Tim's mother all have important support roles.

The book moves from chapter to chapter leaving you wanting to know what is coming next and not wanting to put the book down.

Quotes by Dean Koontz

“Intuition is seeing with the soul.” 

 “Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as deep meditation, almost as good for the soul as prayer.” 

“She was fascinated with words. To her, words were things of beauty, each like a magical powder or potion that could be combined with other words to create powerful spells.” 

“Human beings can always be relied upon to exert, with vigor, their God-given right to be stupid. ” 

Leaders, by Richard Nixon

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Richard Nixon writes about the leaders he had known, and those who he had personal encounters with. Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Douglas MacArthur, Konrad Adenauer, Nikita Khrushchev and Zhou Enlai are some of these....Of most interest is how Nixon see’s these people and the opinions he offers about them: ones he strongly held from which we learn as much about him about the leaders he discusses.  For example, he said: ''In their personal diplomacy Khrushchev and Brezhnev were like Lyndon Johnson. They felt compelled to reinforce their words with some sort of physical contact. Khrushchev's tactile diplomacy was almost always menacing.

When Brezhnev reached out to touch or grab my arm, he sought to implore, not to bully. But should these gentler means fail to persuade me, Brezhnev could also apply sheer muscle. What struck me most about Brezhnev was his emotional versatility. At one moment he would speak with what seemed to be perfect sincerity about his deep desire to leave a legacy of peace for his grandchildren. In the next he would assert with unequivocal determination his right to control the destinies of other nations all around the world.''

So much is being said in today’s political climate about Nixon, and his response to Watergate, that it is interesting to reread this book and she how differently he saw the rest of the world from the one that was here in the United States at that time. 

Nixon’s said early in the book that managers work with their goal being ‘'to do things right'', compared to leaders whose goal is ''to do the right thing''. He doesn’t tell us how to identify the “right thing” and we are left wondering if this is just a rational way to say the end justifies the mean?

Nixon’s said also that great leaders are those who ''so effectively wielded power on such a grand scale that they significantly changed the course of history for their nations and for the world.'' He seems to admire the results of power but does not have a lot to say about the negative consequences that happened in a grand scale over history.

First published in 1982 this is one of Nixon’s many books worth rereading.

Quotes by Richard Nixon

 "A public man must never forget that he loses his usefulness when he as an individual, rather than his policy, becomes the issue"  

"By the time you get dressed, drive out there, play 18 holes and come home, you've blown seven hours. There are better things you can do with your time"  

"We must always remember that America is a great nation today not because of what government did for people but because of what people did for themselves and for one another." 

"You've got to learn to survive a defeat. That's when you develop character"  

"I wish I could give you a lot of advice, based on my experience of winning political debates. But I don't have that experience. My only experience is at losing them"

 

A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis

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“A Grief Observed”, by C.S. Lewis, was published in 1961 under the pseudonym N.W. Clerk, twenty years after his book, “The Problem of Pain.

Lewis’s wife died at age 45, in 1960 from cancer, only four years after their marriage, leaving him to wonder if it was even possible to return to normality after his loss. Lewis died at age 63, only 3 years after Joy’s death. He expressed the anger and bewilderment that he felt towards God as he moved in and out of different stages of grief, saying at one point, “No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.”

“The Problem of Pain” discussed why mankind suffers pain, but the reality of that pain is what “A Grief Observed” is about. Lewis struggles to accept his own prior theories and even his Christian faith throughout the book, but we see a gradual reacceptance of his theories and the reacceptance of the necessity of suffering.

Looking for answers, Lewis said that God is like a surgeon or dentist using pain to awaken his creation to dependence on Him. He adds that labeling pain and suffering as a gift is something that we believe if we accept that God is orchestrating our life for a higher good.

Lewis finally reconciles himself as he looked to “The Son of God who suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.” It’s not easy to swallow but suffering, then, is a shared experience with God himself, through Jesus. Depending on your view of the crucifixion, Jesus suffered to pay the penalty and open the doors of heaven to us.” Perhaps our suffering ushers forward the same sort of consciousness. That’s what Lewis seems to be saying.

More about C.S. Lewis See Literary Favorite Section (click here)

Quotes from "A Grief Observed" by C.S. Lewis

“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” 

“It doesn't really matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist's chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on." 

“Knock and it shall be opened.' But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac?”

“My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself.” 

 

 

The Widow, A Novel, By Fiona Barton

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Fiona Barton’s new book, “The Widow”, starts with Jean Taylor, the wife of the accused, narrating, as she does through much of the novel. The point of view switches between chapters with the point of view switching from the Widow, Reporter, and the Detective. It has been 4 years since little Bella Elliot went missing, while her mother Dawn left her unattended in the front yard. Glen Taylor became the prime suspect for the disappearance: he was charged with the crime, acquitted, and then he was killed stepping in front of a bus. All of these facts we learn in the first three pages of the book from Jean Taylor, who adds, “I was glad he was gone. No more of his nonsense."

Glen was not a nice person and was manipulative, controlling, secretive and emotionally abusive. Bob, the detective, is a hard-working, caring, honest man, who has found good reasons to suspect Glen of taking the little girl from her yard. 

Kate is the only reporter, of the many who try, to break though to gain access to Jean Taylor. Kat really doesn’t know if, with that access, that she has learned anything or has just been played by Jean. 

When Glen is killed the reporter and detective, both believing they have a relationship of trust with Jean, try to get her help, still hoping to learn what happened to Bella. 

Jean does let Kate back into her life and says of that time: “Kate seems to be in charge of things. It's quite nice to have someone in charge of me again. I was beginning to think I'd have to cope with everything on my own."

What makes this an emotionally powerful novel is that none of the characters emerge at the ending in quite the same state as we perceived them in the beginning. They change and our feelings for them change.

Some critics suggest that Barton reveals too much, too soon, but the approach seems to be part of her process of building on what, in the beginning, were lies the characters were telling themselves. That approach does result in our being part of the change in seeing the characters differently: which was really a strength of the book.

Quotes about "The Widow" by Fiona Barton

“I remember looking at him lying there in a small pool of blood and thinking ‘oh well, that’s the end of his nonsense” 

“The simple lies are the hardest, funnily enough. The big ones seem to just fall off the tongue:” 

“It's a strange feeling, owning a secret. It's like a stone in my stomach, crushing my insides and making me feel sick every time I think of it.”