Friday, November 21, 2014

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) & Through the Looking Glass (1872)--Charlie Dodgson



When I first read these through again--I am pretty sure I read them as a teenager at some point, or at least the first book, as I found I did not recall most of the incidents in Through the Looking-Glass--I admit that my initial impression was that they were not as spectacularly brilliant as their reputation would have them be, or even as the sense I had of them in my own memory. From my vantage point as a 44 year old in the year 2014, the story and incidents, while not uncharming, felt too insubstantial, and not epic enough, and that the jokes, heavy as they are on puns and nonsense, were not making me chortle as much as I wanted them to. I wondered whether this sense I had of the book's smallness and datedness was a phenomenon of our current age, especially the enormity of confident and dismissive intellectual life one is exposed to on the internet, where even trivial exchanges offer challenges and demand a level of demonstrable intelligence and worldly competence that even the Alice books as they lay on the page do not, on a surface reading, quite seem to stack up to (though Lew Carroll himself in the discourse and activity that is recorded of him certainly comes off as quick and mentally adroit enough to have made his way somehow in the current social marketplace of intellectual talent).    



So, as with almost all of these old books, I had to remove myself psychically from my contemporary mode, in which I don't have much identifiable being anyway, and slip back into an approximation of my onetime self, circa age 25, which to some extent still lies dormant under the modern '-grade', whether up or not I am not willing to commit to an opinion on, much as (I am told), some of the older computer systems at my work are still buried under the programs that we have to use currently. The Alice books, I reminded myself, belong to literary culture and the world of reading in almost every way that I used to hold dear when I thought these things would be at the center of my life. The characters and stories are so well known as to be a shorthand, a part of the language of this pastime of literary study, usually in a way intended to express a variety of delight. It brings into this often morose community welcome exposure to a lively and enthusiastic element of intelligent people with whom I at least otherwise rarely come into contact in my pursuits. In spite of their frequent morbidity, the books are spurred by the author's strange but often captivating passions along with of course a unique and highly interesting talent and intelligence. Still, I had to slow down and allow the experience and the words and the aspects of life that are being emphasized to be absorbed over several days before I could begin to feel a genuine appreciation for the story once again.    



After I read the books through in my own lovely copy, with the Tenniel illustrations MacMillan Children's Classics, 1937), that I bought at a library sale in Pennsylvania in 1986, I took the Annotated Alice by Martin Gardner ('one of the great intellects produced in this country in this century', according to Douglas Hofstadter, who is apparently someone I am supposed to know) out of the library, partly to see what sort of things I had missed, partly to prolong the experience of the book, which one reads through pretty quickly; even though I am at the very beginning of a list of books that I will be lucky to get through before the end of my life, and in theory should welcome any volume I can dust off in a day or two, I really do like to spend some time with them before moving on to the next one, hence movies, notes, blog postings, etc, etc. The annotations I find here to be helpful in providing a clearer sense of the social and intellectual atmosphere and ruling spirit out of which the book arose, which is what I find most interesting about it. I am still not sure how the recurrence of the number 42 enhances the meaning or the greatness of the story, but I do find it of interest that it was a number so especially favored by the author that he felt it desirable to interpose it into the story as often as he could. I liked the information that the drawling-master who was a conger eel was a reference to Ruskin, who gave weekly drawing lessons to the young Alice Liddell (and supposedly did look like a conger eel) and was also an admirer of her, making himself a rival of sorts with Carroll for the child's treasured affections. I like Ruskin's writings, which I have written about quite a bit on my other blog, but he is also the sort one likes to see made fun of a little by other smart people. It was also noted that while Ruskin made numerous references to Alice Liddell in his diaries and so on, his Oxford colleague Carroll was conspicuously never named. As to Alice Liddell, who was evidently about as captivating a young person who has ever existed, as a teenager she had a 'romance', whatever that entailed in 1870, with Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria's son, while he was a student at Oxford. In that time of course it was impossible that the prince should marry anyone other than a princess (though surely Alice Liddell's blood and other endowments were more than vital enough to enhance any royal line, especially the decrepit ones of the late nineteenth century). The prince did name a daughter of his Alice shortly after the other Alice's own wedding had taken place. So there is some good stuff in there.  


I find the first book, Alice's Adventures, to be much the superior of the two. Of course I have just begun the annotations to Looking Glass, so maybe my feeling on this will change. However, I do think the first book is warmer, has better and more natural characters and a more interesting progress, and is funnier. The real Alice was twenty by the time the second book came out, and it has in places much of the feeling of trying to recover or grasp hold of something that was lost or in the process of being lost, which gives it a lot of poignancy, but does not have the same sense of immediacy and fun as the first book. My favorite character is the queen of hearts. She reminds me of my wife. The Mad Hatter is probably my second favorite. I like this verse also:

"In my youth', said his father, 'I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife; 
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw
Has lasted the rest of my life." 



Do you think she dresses up and acts out scenes from The Magic Mountain?

I was listening to a radio program in the car the other day on which the energetic self-help guru Tony Robbins was briefly a guest. As someone completely devoid of personal dynamism, who has had to live with the consequences of that, I have always thought it might be a nice gesture of the gods if I could be reincarnated, on Earth or in Elysium, with a Tony Robbins-like personality, even if only for a short period, a single human-length year or two. My wife, who has more of the New England skepticism about people who exude positivity, would likely argue that something is off about Robbins, that his persona cannot be real, that no one who acts like him is truly a happy and well-adjusted person and that he is massively overcompensating for some emptiness or perceived deficiency in his life. I find his ability to compensate so effectively to be compelling, though I do not believe, as many people seem to, that I could will myself to be as habitually gregarious as Tony Robbins is all the time if I really wanted to.   



My object in introducing Robbins here is that the interviewer asked him at one point if he had observed, among the many high end performers he had worked with over the years, including presidents, billionaires, superstar athletes and entertainment figures, any common quality that set them so far apart even from the mass of ordinary successful people, to which Robbins replied "hunger". This is certainly widely believed and promoted as true, and perhaps it is always so at the extreme right end of the achievement tail, which is what we all should be aiming for, after all. Literature however has an unusually large of notables who are not at that extreme tail, and who do not give off an air of being consumed by Tony Robbins's idea of hunger to any great degree, who nonetheless hold a place of some honor therein. Carroll strikes me as a man of this class. The happiest day of his life, which he kept coming back to for the remaining 35 years of it and which provided the inspiration for producing the two works for which he is remembered, was passed in gliding along a river--I presume it was the Thames--in a rowboat with a group of little girls. This does not sound like a man burning with a relentless ambition to dominate anything, yet he was still able to achieve significant things. Maybe this could not be repeated today however, certainly beneath a very high social level (though Carroll certainly belonged, comparative to the mass of the populace of his time, to a pretty exalted station, though he was not considered well-born by most of the people with whom he associated).   


It does not need to be said, but the Tenniel illustrations are a great gift to the world, or at least its students of literature, and never fail to provide me with some delight in the possibilities, however rarely realized in my own self, of existence.


The Challenge

After a very paltry challenge last time out, we were able to attract a huge field for this installment, though almost exclusively of obscure books, most of little interest to me, as well as devoid of much in the way of signs of merit. I wonder if the Google apparatus (I do not flatter myself by saying people) has figured out my game and is feeding me reams of junk for its own amusement. Look at this mess:

1. The Nesting Place--Myquillen Smith............................................................329
2. Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco--Burrough & Helyar......189
3. Beguilement--Lois McMaster Bujold............................................................159
4. Cache a Predator--M. Wiedenbrenner..........................................................148
5. The Queen of Attolia--Megan Whalen Turner...............................................119
6. The Fetch--Laura Whitcomb............................................................................76
7. A Curse Dark as Gold--Elizabeth C. Bunce.....................................................65
8. Alice, the Enigma--Christina Croft...................................................................47
9. A Ruby Christmas.............................................................................................42
10. Hush: An Irish Princess Tale--Donna Jo Napoli............................................38
11. Finding Lost Season 6--Nikki Stafford...........................................................26
      The Sly Company of People Who Care--Rahul Bhattacharaya.......................26
13. Stewie Bromstein Starts School--Christine Bronstein.....................................24
14. True Confessions of a Heartless Girl--Martha Brooks...................................18
15. Naked--Michael ian Black...............................................................................13
16. The Spiraling Worm--Conyers & Sunseri.......................................................12
17. Tis the Season--Ellen Emerson White..............................................................9
18. Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes--Fadiman, etc......................................................8
19. The Tempest For Kids--Lois Burdett................................................................6
20. 365 Easy Chicken Recipes................................................................................4
21. Dynamic Chess Strategy--Mihai Suba..............................................................2
      Perry Mason Solves the Case of the Haunted Husband--Erle Stanley Gardner.2
      Book of the London International Chess Congress 1922..................................2
      Book of the New York International Chess Tournament 1924..........................2
      Webster's New World Essential Vocabulary.....................................................2
26. Denslow's Humpty Dumpty................................................................................1

Volumes receiving a score of 0: Samovski Zabovnik by Dragoslav Andric, Book of the Hastings International Masters Chess Tournament 1922, The Crime Club by W. Holt White, Dilemmas by A. E. W. Mason (the 2nd time this little known book has appeared in the challenge), The Pig Brother by Laura E. Richards, The Mediterrenean by Bonney, Ball, Traill, etc, Blood of the Zombies by Ian Livingston, Clara in Blunderland by Caroline Lewis, 1,000 Mythological Characters Briefly Described by Edward S. Ellis, and Humorous Readings and Recitations, by the Albion Reciters.

The winner is a frilly, frothy book about home decorating. I think I will pass again.






There was an unusually crowded and competitive Film Challenge this time, featuring an extremely close finish and a major upset over the heavily favored entrant that had not only the home post advantage going for it but the backing and imprimatur of the all-powerful Walt Disney Corporation:

1. Dawn of the Dead (1979)......................................742
2. Alice in Wonderland (1951)..................................732
3. Something Wicked.................................................263
4. Denise Austin: Shrink Your Female Fat Zones.....215
5. Queen to Play........................................................143
6. Brooke Burke Body: 30 Day Slimdown...................68
7. Denise Austin: Get Fit Fast.....................................34



The music challenge likewise did not lead us to any rarified pocket of the achievements of that realm:

1. Back to the Future Soundtrack........................................................76
2. Resistance: Rise of the Runaways--Crown the Empire...................24
3. Magic--The Jets.................................................................................4




So after immersing myself in the world of Alice and some of the innumerable exegeses devoted to it for a further week, my belief in its greatness and brilliance (and humility at my own littleness) is almost fully restored. It is not one of the books that is uniquely mine, and that I love intimately, and it never will be, because of limitations on my own part, but it gives me some happiness to reunite with it at intervals of years, to see as much as I can that it holds up as well as I remember it and exchange a jest or good-natured greeting with it, to affirm that some positive connection exists between us. This is what reading mainly is for me now. 





Monday, November 3, 2014

Booth Tarkington--Alice Adams (1921)



This is another book that really carries us back into the lost past, in more than one sense in my case. Even to read the first page is to be suddenly dropped, in a manner reminiscent of Mr Rogers's television show, away from everything relevant to current life into the ever vanishing world that was our country in the early years of the 20th century. There is urbanization, there is industrialization and pollution, there is big business, or at least localized variations of it, there are even automobiles and trolleys. However we have not come yet to radios, air conditioning, movies (in this book at least), widespread high school completion, and a host of modern psychological refinements, with regard at least to people who actually aspire to respectability, in areas such as race, self-awareness and presentation, and socio-economic expectations and entitlement. It is also a world where Booth Tarkington is one of the most popular and acclaimed novelists in the country, considered wise and a cultural leader by many, the winner of two of the first four Pulitzer Prizes awarded, one of which was for this book, Alice, as everyone will know now, was published the year before the appearance on the of Ulysses and The Waste Land, and the year after Fitzgerald had heralded the arrival of the Lost Generation writers with his wildly succesful debut, compared to all of which people and work Tarkington's writings and concerns, as well as those of his readers, almost at once appeared hopelessly quaint and out of date by anybody with any literary sensibility, and his reputation gradually declined, though he remained a name that was accorded some respect among the second rank of authors and readers, which level was still of a fairly high quality, and does not really have a parallel, certainly in terms of mass, among the reading public in our day, up to the 50s. Here is the original cover for Alice Adams, which is set contemporaneously (one of the characters at least mentions that he was recently out of service after the war, though his war experience plays no role in his character, nor the war itself in the character of the book), The design is not exactly looking forward towards modernism or any other movement afoot and about to burst out all over in the 1920s, but evokes a kind of middle American charm and nostalgia for what was understood even at the time to be neither charming nor anything worth being nostalgic for. Even thinking in terms of 1921 I am sure that the image gives the sense of looking at the present through a frame or eyes that have not fundamentally adjusted their way of perceiving for twenty or thirty years past, even if there are late model cars and storefronts pencilled into the scene. But I am all right with that, which I guess really is a problem with me.

        

I read this many years ago (this is the other incidence of return to a lost past), when I first attempted to go through this list as a teenager and was drawing the titles out of a plastic bowl to determine what to read next. At the time I thought it quite good. It is a simple book, very easy to understand, yet the descriptions of scenes and the feelings of the characters are good enough that it feels like you are reading something intelligent and worthwhile, especially I suppose when you are a teenager. This time around I was a little more attuned to its shortcomings, both in the writing and overall conception and execution, though there were still some things I liked about it. In the first part of the book I enjoyed the full immersion in the world of the 1910s which really does not reach out to you across the ages but lies as if buried in a chest, or on the dark shelves of a library storage area, requiring you to come to it, though in the second half the relentlessness of the social failure and humiliation with which this pitiful family is afflicted becomes rather painful even for the reader to endure, and I found myself dreading approaching scenes in which the various disasters that the Adams's attempts to hold themselves a little higher than they ought to have dared must inevitably play out. Are people really that bad? I guess they would be, if any of us aspired to break into society that was as far above us as the people Alice wants to hang out with are above her. I was also taken much more aback on this reading by the general crudeness of the thoughts and speech and manners and mindsets of the society depicted in the book. It does not feel as if the author is exaggerating or straining to write in an affected way to make a point, as someone like Mark Twain might be inclined to do; the dialogue and the thoughts have a simplicity and naturalness about them that give a sense that this is what it was really like much of the time. It is not that people are not crude in this way now, of course, but most of them are not really trying to be respectable in the way that Alice and her parents are. People of this type would go to college and be exposed to such  media now as would smooth down their rawness and unrefinement to something a little less obvious. The book is extremely racist, in a casual and largely incidental way--that is, it is not about black people at all, but when they appear or are alluded to in passing the attitude taken is always contemptuous--which I had even noted as a teenager. Alice Adams's ne'er do well brother is known to hang out at jazz joints and shoot dice with the black kitchen workers in the back of the establishment. In a modern book set in this time he would undoubtedly take on the persona of a cool and sympathetic character who 'gets' something (perhaps it), but it is pretty obvious that Tarkington intends to demonstrate by this that he is thoroughly disreputable. By means of comparison, a lot of people say that, for example, Faulkner is racist. He probably is by most current standards, but even if it is so his racism is worlds more sophisticated than Tarkington's. Faulkner's black characters, or at least numerous of them, have qualities, and strengths and individual histories and personalities, as well as personal deficiencies that are their own and not necessarily relevant to other black people. All of this was absent in Tarkington. Things like civil rights and integration were not big themes in the Faulkner books I have read, though I sense that part of the message of his 30s books is that in southern society black and white are more intimately and subtly intertwined than people commonly acknowledged. At the same time he was one of those authors who tried to apply an exacting and unflinching eye to things, and he seemed to find the circumstance that blacks were oppressed and legally and socially inferior without being able to do much about it or at that time offer any kind of threat--and not even necessarily of a violent quality--to the status quo to be telling, and something of an indictment, against the community designated as black. I am assuming it is in this aspect that the accusations of Faulkner's racism and the insistence that he cannot be considered a great writer if this is the extent of his belief and understanding of the matter come from. But it is still a considerable leap forward from Tarkington's attitude.



But getting back to Alice Adams, I wanted to touch on some of the things about it that I liked. Here is a passage where Mr Adams is lying in bed at dawn after a largely sleepless night that makes me feel I am right there in the room in 1920:

"He heard the milk-wagon drive into the cross-street beneath his windows and stop at each house. The milkman carried his jars round to the 'back porch,' while the horse moved slowly ahead to the gate of the next customer and waited there...His complaint was of the horse, who casually shifted weight with a clink of steel shoes on the worn brick pavement of the street, and then heartily shook himself in his harness, perhaps to dislodge a fly far ahead of its season. Light had just filmed the windows; and with that the first sparrow woke, chirped instantly, and roused neighbours in the trees of the small yard, including a loud-voiced robin. Vociferations began irregularly, but were soon unanimous...Night sounds were becoming day sounds; the far away hooting of freight-engines seemed brisker than an hour ago in the dark."



There was another passage which was of some of Alice's thought processes which I meant to mark down at the time as pretty good but I cannot find it now.

The Adams family does not seem to have any kind of intellectual life, in the sense that they don't read at all, other than perhaps local newspapers, nor do they do anything with music. They were not well enough off to send their children to college, which they looked at however as more of a desirable social marker than an opportunity for exciting scholarship. Their mental energies are entirely focused on money, business, and social status. Again this is not in itself unusual, but the circumstance that it is presented so matter-of-factly is unusual. The absence of books in the activity of the family is not even pointed out by the writer, it is something I noticed myself. I feel like most writers either would not be able to write about such characters at all or would feel compelled to do so as if they were oddities or otherwise alien. Tarkington does write about them as if they are normal people that anyone might know or would write a novel about. This feels like something of an achievement because writers are too overeducated to do it now.

I had forgotten about the at the time well-regarded 1935 movie based on the book that was directed by George Stevens and starred a young and surprisingly cute Katharine Hepburn as Alice and that old dog Fred MacMurray as Arthur Stevens, the handsome young man from a good family. The clips from it on the internet are fairly enticing, though the Adams's house certainly looks a lot nicer in the movie than I had imagined it in the book. Katharine Hepburn does kind of look like what I imagined Alice to be. 



There was also a 1923 silent movie. I don't know whether this is still extant as a whole, but there are stills from it floating around on the internet.



If I had more time to spend on these--I think it is very interesting how the forms that people with social insecurities take change over time, you know the particular things that bother them or the characteristics that they have, The Honeymooners is another example of this. There are not really a lot of guys in form like Ralph Kramden nowadays, that particular loud blowhard type who is obnoxious and not very successful but nonetheless occupies a definite social niche. Yet I feel that this personality was more common in his generation. That type of thing...

The Challenge

Almost an un-challenge. I thought this would be an interesting one too. The magic words for Alice Adams however were so generic that in combination their searches turned up hardly any titles at all:

1. The Iron Queen--Julie Kagawa.................................331
2. The Hate Factory--W.G. Stowe..................................39
3. Hospitality Financial Accounting--Weygandt, etc.......4

The winner belongs to the 'Harlequin Teen' series, so I think I had better pass on it. 

A movie challenge did emerge as well, and it was an odd matchup as usual:

1. The Amityville Horror (1979)..................................308
2. Tomorrowland...........................................................57



Friday, October 10, 2014

Washington Irving--The Alhambra (1832)


Of all of the classes of books that at one time or another have been considered to belong to the realm of Literature, those volumes constituted primarily of tales of a fantastic nature would appear to suffered the steepest decline in esteem by contemporary readers. This seems almost counterintuitive, given the current immense popularity of modern stories featuring fantasy and magic among all ages and classes of readers; it is evident however that the writing ,and the mindsets of the protagonists and the problems to be overcome in the new stories, despite their superficial resemblances to the older stories featuring knights and ladies and enchantments, have been updated to appeal to modern sensibilities such that they possess a vividness to the present generation of readers that the romantic stories of Scott and Boccaccio and their ilk do not.

Washington Irving's Alhambra is primarily a book of legends and tales of this romantic sort--that is what it is remembered for, to the extent that it is remembered--though it also partakes of the genres of travelogue and I suppose some light history. I found it a wonderful book, at this particular time of my life anyway, found Washington Irving, whom I had never read before, to be a much more interesting writer than his current stature suggested to me he would be, and found my already fervent (for me) desire to go wandering around Spain re-confirmed and further whetted by the perhaps unrealistically romantic but unabashedly good-natured affection with which the author (infects) his account. The IWE introduction states, with characteristic candor, that the book is a "typical work of North America's first man of letters--good writing but seldom superlative." I suppose this is accurate, but I do want to note that I was struck, more than I usually am, perhaps because the writing was 'seldom superlative' by what a good command Irving had of the language. It is a vigorous kind of writing, always clear and precise in spite of some 19th century tendencies towards effusiveness and hyperbole, and also frequently humorous. I will give a couple of examples from "The Legend of the Moor's Legacy":

""Honest Peregil thus saw himself unexpectedly saddled with an infidel guest, but he was too humane to refuse a night's shelter to a fellow-being in so forlorn a plight."

"Now it so happened that this Alcalde was one of the most overbearing, and at the same time one of the most griping and corrupt curmudgeons in all Granada. It could not be denied, however, that he set a high value upon justice, for he sold it at its weight in gold."

"As ill-luck would have it, there lived opposite to the water-carrier a barber named Pedrillo Pedrugo, one of the most prying, tattling, and mischief-making of his gossip tribe. He was a weasel-faced, spider-legged varlet, supple and insinuating; the famous barber of Seville could not surpass him for universal knowledge of the affairs of others."



My edition is from 1926. It belongs to the 'Academy Classics for Junior High Schools' series, pocket-sized little volumes with nice thick paper, a large number of photographs of the Alhambra and various sites associated with Washington Irving, and about fifty of footnotes, biography, study questions and other supplemental information. The footnotes and appendices of course are unabashedly Eurocentric. (Some favorite footnotes: Allah: God; plains of Tours: Near Tours, in France, in 732, Charles Martel defeated the Mohammedans and thereby saved Europe; Henry III: King of Castile, 1390-1406. He was called "The Weak," because he was by no means inclined to wage war against the Moors.") The editors in their comments about the Moors betray attitudes and thought processes that will properly draw frowns from unignorant moderns, though they are trying, after their paternalistic fashion, to be complimentary:

"(The) Moors, he (Irving) learned, were Caucasians like himself, with the fine strong features of the white race, and of a handsome, dignified, noble appearance. Since they had descended from generations of people who had lived in the hot sun of the desert regions, they had dark-brown complexion, dark eyes, and intensely black hair...They established colleges; encouraged literature, art, and science; the development of mathematics and of medicine, of astronomy and physics, as well as the study of history and geography; and they did wonderful work in the making of silken cloth and of steel. In many ways these dark-faced people benefited Spain, setting slaves free; relieving the oppressed; reducing taxation, and giving wide freedom. They did so much that was remarkable that they thought of themselves as leaders of men, and made all people respect their culture and their intellectual ability."

Irving's own comments on the Moors, it should be noted, had somewhat less of this overt racial condescension. As even the editors of this edition discerned, "Irving wrote about the Moors with enthusiasm because he thought them a great people.":

"As conquerors, their heroism was only equalled by their moderation; and in both, for a time, they excelled the nations with whom they contended."

"The Arab invasion and conquest brought a higher civilization, and a nobler style of thinking, into Gothic Spain. The Arabs were a quick-witted, sagacious, proud-spirited, and poetic people, and were imbued with oriental science and literature."



Washington Irving seems to have led all in all a pretty swell life. Certainly that is the impression given in the biographical sketch of him in my 1926 schoolboy edition, which would have left out all references to the sorts of petty unpleasantnesses with which any life is filled and which tend I think to be overemphasized in modern biography. It did mention that Irving was engaged to be married when he was twenty-six, and that his fiancee died before the wedding. It does not seem that he ever married anyone else, and of course there were no allusions to any kind of illicit romances in the schoolboy book (Wikipedia says that when he was forty, and already long a successful author, he proposed to an eighteen year old who turned him down; it also asserts that Mary Shelley, who was 14 years younger than Irving herself, expressed, through a third party, romantic interest in him, but Irving did not pursue the relationship). He was born in New York in 1783, a great time and place to have done so, certainly by the standards of history up to that point, and acknowledging the favorable circumstances of race, gender, social position, etc that he possessed. For the free Americans my impression, which seems to be corroborated by statistics with regard to things like average height, birth and death rates, etc, those first decades of nationhood after the revolution were a pretty heady time to grow up, full of confidence and purpose, again by comparison to almost any other time and place in history. By his 20s Irving had become the first person in the history of his nation to be recognized primarily as a litterateur in the European tradition. He lived in and traveled all over Europe for seventeen years, including his three month sojourn inside the Alhambra. After the success of that book, he was awarded the post of United States Ambassador to Spain by president Tyler, though he seems to have accepted the post reluctantly. He lived out his middle and old age in his beautiful mansion (which can still be visited, by the way) along the Hudson, reading, writing more books, meandering around the Catskills and heading down to the City when the mood struck him. He died in 1859, just in time to miss the next great national cataclysm, fittingly it seems to me, as he belongs so thoroughly to the epoch of our history that was exploded when the Civil War happened, though perhaps he would have been interested to see it. Really, his life was kind of my ideal, apart from his never having married or any children (which I have to assume he could have afforded and paid/directed someone else to take care of while he wrote and traveled.)

The making of books had attained a very high level by the 1920s. This copy I have is in excellent condition, sturdy, has great paper, no typos or other printing errors, easily readable print, is attractively designed. It's great.

The Bourgeois Surrender Challenge

I read the winner from the last challenge, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, which came out in 2001, and seems to have been pretty well acclaimed. I suppose it has some qualities of professional literary authorship about it, but overall it doesn't quite achieve anything that that status would suggest. First of all, the book is only 318 pages, but it seems like it goes on forever, which is not a great sign. Secondly, while she does not affect it, the author seeps with a kind of bourgeois snobbery that is not yet wholly earned enough to be tolerable in artistic pursuits. Her characters are too much what she imagines people of their distinction and achievement must be like, and not enough what she knows of the same. I assume Roxane Cox, the opera singing diva from Chicago who possesses an understanding of and intimacy with the higher things of life that are beyond that of almost everyone who has ever lived, is supposed, even if subconsciously, to be a stand-in for our author, which is a identification that the author has not earned, and does not earn by way of a convincing demonstration of the character. The book is most interesting perhaps as a window into the ego of the modern American woman. Roxane Cox, whom I take to be the author's alter ego, is an American from a middle class midwestern Catholic school who somehow has developed into the world's greatest opera singer. She is flown in at exorbitant expense to an unidentified godforsaken country in South America to sing for the CEO of one of the most important corporations in Japan because he loves opera, she is his favorite singer, and the government of the godforsaken country is desperate for him to build a factory or otherwise invest some dough there. During the concert terrorists, expecting the president of the country to be there, burst into the palace and take the assembled international crowd of extremely rich, cultured and important guests hostage. After a couple of days all of the women and unimportant men are allowed to leave, except somehow Roxane is not set free. She is thus the lone woman imprisoned in the among forty or so mostly alpha men, none of whom it should be noted, are Americans--they wouldn't be interesting enough. All of the men fall in love with her, especially after she begins to sing for them all every day. She picks the one she wants out of the bunch, the great Japanese CEO as it turns out, to be her lover during the captivity under the terrorists (don't ask), and the other men--even the Russians!--tamely accept this decision. Of course we are all entitled to our personal fantasy worlds, but at least recognize them when they are delineated so blatantly.

Anyway, onto this week's challenge. I thought with all of the Spanish and Alhambra material producing the magic words that we would have an interesting and high octane contest, but it turned out to be nothing of the sort.

1. Civilization: The West and the Rest--Niall Ferguson.....................................................226
2. Sister Queens--Julia Fox.................................................................................................135
3. Le Freak: An Upside Down History of Family, Disco & Destiny-- Nile Rodgers.........113
4. Enchantments--Kathryn Harrison.....................................................................................99
5. Codex Magica--Texe Marrs..............................................................................................83
6. At Hidden Falls--Barbara Freethy.....................................................................................40
7. The Damascus Cover--Howard Kaplan............................................................................26
8. The Economist Style Guide.................................................................................................7
9. Advanced Language Practice With Key--Michael Vince...................................................2

Lot of zero-scorers this time, mainly among older books: The Dementia of Iyan Igma; A.J. Calvert, Southern Spain (This was actually listed among the recommended supplemental reading in my copy of the Alhambra); Mary F. Nixon-Roulet, Our Little Spanish Cousin; Eyewitness Travel: New York City 2011; Joan Ouellet, The Captive Dove; Happy Days For Boys & Girls; and W.A. Leahy, The Incendiary.

I am glad that the Niall Ferguson book was the winner, because that is the sort of popular non-fiction book that I like to read and have not always taken the time to fit in. Ferguson is, or was a few years ago at least, on the way becoming the new Christopher Hitchens/Andrew Sullivan British expat political and economic commentator for that portion of the educated set that is especially blown away by Oxbridge polish and erudition. I have started his book, and it is entertaining and has some interesting information in it, particularly about medieval era China, though Ferguson is the type of writer who is very emphatic that he is giving us the truth and the assertions of previous authors and sometimes even positions that were widely held among the most prominent scholars in a field for decades were completely off the mark. This kind of thing leads me to suspect that he is oversimplifying the ideas and thought processes that prevailed formerly. However, as I said, I am still enjoying the book.

The Alhambra words produced a very weird movie challenge:

1. Silver Streak......................196
2. Body by Bethenny..............177
3. God's Pocket........................20

Yes, the winner is the 1976 Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor collaboration, and the close runner up is the exercise tape of a divorced reality television personality who is about my age, and unfortunately seems to be a pretty typical specimen of the kinds of women I had to spend my adolescence unsuccessfully trying to figure out how to gain the approval of because they seemed to be the predominant type that was around.





Monday, September 22, 2014

Author List Volume VI

Charles Reade (1814-1884) The Cloister and the Hearth (1861) Born: Ipsden House, Oxfordshire, England. Buried: St Mary's Churchyard, Kensal Green, London, England. Castel Sant Angelo, Rome, Lazio, Italy. College: Magdalen (Oxford).

Erasmus (1466-1536) Born: Wijde Kerstraat, Rotterdam, Netherlands. Buried: Basel Minster, Basel, Switzerland. Erasmus House, Rue du Chapitre 31, Brussels, Belgium. Erasmus Bridge, Rotterdam, Netherlands. College: Paris.

Izaak Walton (1593-1683) The Compleat Angler (1653) Born: 62/62A Eastgate Street, Stafford, Staffordshire, England. Buried: Winchester Cathedral, Winchester, Hampshire, England. Izaak Walton Cottage, Shallowford, Staffordshire, England. Izaak Walton Inn, Essex, Montana. Izaak Walton Inn Hotel, Embu, Kenya.

Charles Cotton (1630-1687) Born: Beresford Dale, Derbyshire, England. Buried: St James's Church, St James, London, England. Charles Cotton Hotel, Hartington, Derbyshire, England.



Thomas DeQuincey (1785-1859) Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821-2) Born: 86 Cross Street, Manchester, Lancashire, England. Buried: St Cuthbert's Churchyard, Princes Street, Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland. College: Worcester (Oxford). Dove Cottage, Grasmere, Cumbria, England.

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430) The Confessions of St Augustine (399) Born: Souk Ahras, Algeria. Buried: Chiesa San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro, Pavia, Lombardy, Italy. Parish Church of St Augustine, Bacong, Phillipines. St. Augustine, Florida.

St Monica (331-387) Born: Souk Ahras, Algeria. Buried: Basilica di Sant' Agostino, Rome, Lazio, Italy. Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, California. Santa Monica History Museum, Santa Monica, California.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) A Connecticut Yankee at the Court of King Arthur (1889) Born: Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site, 37352 Shrine Road, Florida, Missouri. (*****5-5-03*****). Buried: Woodlawn Cemetery, Elmira, Chemung, New York. Mark Twain House & Museum, 351 Farmington Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut (*****8-12-10*****). Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, 120 N Main Street, Hannibal, Missouri (*****5-3-03*****). Mark Twain Museum, Nevada 341, Virginia City, Nevada. Mark Twain Cave, Hannibal, Missouri. Study, Elmira College, Elmira, Chemung, New York.

Isabella (1451-1504) Born: Madrigal de las Altas Torres, Avila, Spain. Buried: Capilla Real, Granada, Andalusia, Spain.

Ferdinand (1452-1516) Born: Sos del Rey, Catolico, Spain. Buried: Capilla Real, Granada, Andalusia, Spain. Alcazar de Segovia, Segovia, Spain.

Margaret Kennedy (1896-1967) The Constant Nymph (1924) Born: 14 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington, London, England. College: Somerville (Oxford). 

Coriolanus (400s B.C.) Born: Rome, Lazio, Italy.

Plutarch (46-120) Born: Chaeronea, Greece.

Andre Gide (1869-1951) The Counterfeiters (1925) Born: 19 Rue de Medicis, 6eme, Paris, France. Buried: Cemetery, Cuverville, Haute-Normandie, France. College: Lycee Henri IV.

Alexandre Dumas pere (1803-1870) The Count of Monte Cristo (1844) Born: 46 Rue Alexandre Dumas, Villers-Cotterets, Picardie, France. Buried: Pantheon, 5eme, Paris, France. Chateau de Monte-Cristo, Le Port-Marly, Yvelines, Ile-de-France, France. Musee Alexandre Dumas, 24 Rue Demoustier, Villers-Cotterets, Picardie, France. Alexandre Dumas Metro Station, 11eme & 20eme, Paris, France. Chateau d'If, Marseilles, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, France. Ateshgah Fire Temple, Abseron Peninsula, Azerbaijan


Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896)  Born: Sarah Orne Jewett House, 5 Portland Street, South Berwick, Maine. Buried: Portland Street Cemetery, South Berwick, Maine.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858) Born: corner of Fore & Hancock Streets, Portland, Maine. Buried: Mt Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Middlesex, Massachusetts. Longfellow House Washington Headquarters, 105 Brattle Street, Cambridge, Middlesex, Massachusetts. Wadsworth-Longfellow House, 489 Congress Street, Portland, Maine. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Monument, Congress & State Streets, Portland, Maine. Replica of House, Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis, Minnesota. College: Bowdoin.



Miles Standish (1584-1656) Born: Likely Lancashire, England. Buried: Miles Standish Cemetery, Duxbury, Plymouth, Massachusetts. Myles Standish Monument, Crescent Street, Duxbury, Plymouth, Massachusetts. Myles Standish State Forest, Plymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts. Legs of Myles Standish, Route 58, Halifax, Plymouth, Massachusetts.

John Alden (1599-1687) Born: Harwich, Essex, England. Buried: Myles Standish Burial Ground, Duxbury, Plymouth, Massachusetts. John Alden's House, 105 Alden Street, Duxbury, Plymouth, Massachusetts. John Alden Gift Shop, 74 Water Street, Plymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts. John Alden Apartments, Seattle, Washington. Plymouth Rock, Plymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts. The John Alden Sandwich, Waterside Market, 76 Main Street, Vineyard Haven, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Priscilla Mullins (1602-1685) Born: Dorking, Surrey, England. Buried: Miles Standish Burial Ground, Duxbury, Plymouth, Massachusetts. John Alden's House, 105 Alden Street, Duxbury, Massachusetts.


Honore de Balzac (1799-1850) Cousin Bette (1847) Born: 25 Rue de l'armee d'Italie, Tours, Centre, France. Buried: Cimitier du Pere Lachaise, 20eme, Paris, Maison de Balzac, 47 Rue Raynouard, 16eme, Paris, France. Statue, Rue du Faubourg St Honore, 8eme, Paris, France. Monument to Honore de Balzac (Rodin), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California. College: University of Paris (Sorbonne)

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (1810-1865) Cranford (1853) Born: 93 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London, England. Buried: Brook Street Unitarian Chapel, Knutsford, Cheshire, England. Gaskell House, 84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester, Lancashire, England.  Knutsford Heritage Centre, 90A King Street, Knutsford, Cheshire, England.


Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) The Crescent Moon (1913) Born: Jorasanko Thakur Bari, 6/4 Dwarakanath Tagore Lane, Calcutta, India. Ashes: Ganges River, India. Shelaidaha Kuthibari, Bangladesh. Shantiniketan, India (several sights).

Anatole France (1844-1924) The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard (1881) Born: Quais Malaquais 19, 6eme, Paris, France. Buried: Cimitiere Ancien, Neuilly-sur-Seine, Hauts-de-Seine, Ile-de-France, France. Hotel Anatole France, 104 Rue Anatole France, Le Havre, Upper Normandy, France.

Winston Churchill (1871-1947) The Crisis (1901) Born: St Louis, Missouri. Buried: Plainfield Cemetery, Plainfield, New Hampshire. College: Navy.

Of note to me as a New Hampshire resident, there is a historic marker on the west side of Route 12A about 200 yards south of the Cornish-Plainfield town line commemorating this author. The only references to his burial site I have found are from 1953, which gives the name of a cemetery that does not seem to exist, and the town report from 1967 in which it is recorded that his descendants wanted to give the land where he was buried to the town. It did not specify where the land was, nor can I discover whether the town accepted the offer. I have now found a 3rd reference, which cites that he was buried on his property, which appears to have been on Freeman Road (The Windfield House).

I'm not having any luck finding the address of his birthplace in St Louis, though having been to that city I am pretty confident that wherever it was, there is probably a vacant lot or a highway there now.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) Born: Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England. Buried: St Martin's Church, Bladon, Oxfordshire, England. National Churchill Museum, 501 Westminster Avenue, Fulton, Missouri. Churchill War Rooms, King Charles Street, Westminster, London, England. "The Allies" (statue), Bond Street, Mayfair, London, England. Chartwell, Mapleton Road, Westerham, Kent, England. College: Royal Military College, Sandhurst.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816) The Critic (1779) Born: 12 Upper Dorset Street, Dublin, Ireland (or maybe not, but this has traditionally been thought the birthplace, & there is a plaque commemorating it. On the other hand, the commission to ferret out the truth was financed by 'a private client' and there is a real estate developer eager to demolish the decrepit house and put up an apartment complex, so I am not sure how far I would trust the motivations of those findings either.) Buried: Westminster Abbey, Westminster, London, England. Portrait (by Hoppner), Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia.

David Crockett (1786-1836) Narrative of the Life of David Crockett (1834) Born: Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park, Greene County, Tennessee. Buried: San Fernando Cathedral, 115 Main Plaza, San Antonio, Texas. David Crockett State Park, Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. David Crockett Cabin Museum, Rutherford, Tennessee. Crockett Tavern Museum, Morrisville, Tennessee. Rifle. Museum of East Tennessee History, Knoxville, Tennesee.

John Wesley Crockett (1807-1852) Born: East Tennessee. Buried: Old City Cemetery, Paris, Tennessee (Historic marker also).


James Stephens (1882-1950) Crock of Gold (1912) Born: Dublin, Ireland (site not documented. Usually reported as being "a poor part of town.") Buried: d. London, England. (I cannot find any information on this as yet. Even my great reference, The Oxford Literary Guide to the British Isles, has not recorded this).

Cymbeline (fl 10's B.C.-40) No specific information. Cymbeline House, 24 Evesham Place, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England.

Edmond Rostand (1868-1918) Cyrano de Bergerac (1897) Born: 14 Rue Edmond Rostand, Marseilles, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, France. Buried: Cimitiere Sainte Pierre, Marseilles, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, France. La Villa Arnaga, Route du Docteur Camino, Cambo-le-Bains, Aquitaine, France. Hotel Edmond Rostand Logis de France, 31 Rue Dragon, Marseilles, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, France. 

Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655) Born: Rue des Prouvaires, 1ere, Paris, France. Buried: Church, Sannois, Val d'Oise, Ile-de-France, France. (The actual site appears to be gone/unknown now). Statue, Place de la Myrpe, Bergerac, Dordogne, France. Cyrano de Bergerac Restaurant, Slawkowska 26, Krakow, Poland.

Theodore de Banville (1823-1891) Born: Moulins, Auvergne, France. Buried: Cimitiere du Montparnasse, 14eme, Paris, France. Hotel de Banville, 166 Boulevard Berthier, 17eme, Paris, France.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Willa Cather--Alexander's Bridge (1912)

This is Willa Cather's first, very short novel (128 sparely filled pages). There are not a lot of copies of it currently in circulation. Vintage put out a paperback edition in 2010, which is what I got, and I presume it is available in the Library of America, but I was hoping to find a cheap older (pre-1960s) copy for my collection, and I couldn't find anything, even an expensive one.


As I have written on the parent blog, I think My Antonia is one of the great American novels. Up until now it had been the only Willa Cather I had read. Alexander's Bridge, in contrast to the western pioneer settings with which she had her great later success, takes place mainly among the wealthy, well-dressed, theater and dinner party-going segment of society in Boston and London. The crowd is not unlike an Edith Wharton crowd, though more active in terms of industry. I suppose it could be said that Alexander, who is a great engineer who builds mighty bridges, is something of a pioneer, although that aspect of his character is not really predominant in the story. He is presented as a man of force, blond, blue eyed, strongly built, with a powerful neck and bursting with energy to claim the wealth and status that is rightfully theirs--such men obviously made a great impression, as they appear frequently in the American literature of this period (Wharton's Elmer Moffatt character is another hard-charger of this type). This is not, however, the Alexander that appears in most of the actual story; the one that is given the reader seems to be in the throes of a midlife crisis unbecoming a mighty builder of the most modern railway bridges, increasingly diffident about his work and pining for his youth and his lost love. The IWE describes the book thus:

"The writing is quiet, restrained--no surprises, no suspense. There is no contrived plot. The characters are conventional or at least self-controlled. Yet without evident effort she makes them real--a quality of her writing that within a few years was to win Willa Cather recognition as a major novelist."



Yes, I would disagree with that. The great shortcoming of Al's Bridge for me is that the characters never become wholly real, or acquire any sort of depth in my mind. I don't understand why Alexander was seemingly losing interest in the life he had, or what he was expecting to attain by giving it up to have his Irish actress. The book is not bad--the writing is good, and the atmosphere of that general time period in the great cities, New York, London, Boston, is captured well enough to hold the reader's interest, and it is short enough to read in a couple days, probably a couple of hours if you are not a ditherer like I am. So I am glad I read it, even though I would not consider it on the whole as satisfying or successful as some of the other books I have read for the IWE list recently.



The Challenge

Another crazy challenge with a shocking (to me) winner. I guess not as many people read the famous books as you would think (or those who do fell less moved or compelled to review it on the internet). It was also notable that women authors were dominant. I should not be surprised that the magic words generated by a Willa Cather novel tilt the power of the search engine heavily towards the feminine. Those things are too clever.

1. Ann Patchett--Bel Canto........................................................................1,034
2. Barbara Kingsolver--Prodgial Summer.....................................................711
3. Lucy Maud Montgomery--Anne of Avonlea..............................................594
4. Salman Rushdie--Satanic Verses...............................................................341
5. A.S. Byatt--Possession...............................................................................315
6. Irene Hunt--Across Five Aprils..................................................................282
7. Paolo Pacigalupi--The Drowned Cities......................................................143
8. Mary E. Braddon--Lady Audley's Secret......................................................72
9. Winifred Watson--Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day.....................................66
10. Virginia Woolf--The Waves........................................................................61
11. Salman Rushdie--East, West.......................................................................31
12. Alexandra Nouri--So You're in Love With a Narcissist..............................28
13. Larsen & Hodge--The Art of Argument......................................................19
14. Margaret Atwood--Good Bones..................................................................17
(tie) Diane Stanley--Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare............17
16. Winifred Holtby--Anderby Wold..................................................................4
17. Barbara Greenwood--A Pioneer Story..........................................................1

Working With Words: Grade 6, Applications of Grammar 4: Principles of Effective Communication, and Applications of Grammar 6: Mastering Communication Skills tied for last place with the obvious score of zero.



I was certain that the Anne of Green Gables or the A.S. Byatt would win. The relatively low score on the Byatt was especially surprising. Hasn't there been one of the most hyped books of the new century? Ann Patchett appears to be one of these attractive, hyper-focused, morally strident, successfully/triumphantly educated modern people towards whom I am emotionally ambivalent and distant but am conflicted about in my modest forages into mental life. Her book, which is set in South America and involves terrorists and music and substantial people who either undoubtedly have brilliant standardized test scores or are so culturally authentic as to be extremely sexy, is supposedly good. I guess I will have to try it.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Eugene O'Neill--Ah Wilderness! (1933)

Famous for being the happy Eugene O'Neill play--the only one, apparently, that can be thus described. As I noted in my last posting, I am in a stretch of shorter readings for this list, and Ah Wilderness! clocks in at a breezy 141 pages. From the IWE introduction:

"Among O'Neill's most popular plays, Ah Wilderness! deserves a special place as the easiest for any amateur group to produce. Its characters and sets are conventional and it is over at a convenient hour. It has a happy ending."



My 1960s-era Modern Library copy (cast off from the Trenton (Michigan) High School library), was marked up with an actress's notes for the role of Essie, the mother of the family. The aroma of decades old cigarette smoke still emanates deliciously from the pages, which is entirely suitable and welcome to me, given the nature of this list and my motivations for taking it up in midlife, The play itself has a nostalgic aspect, being set on July 4th and 5th, 1906, and featuring young love as one of its main themes. The central family in the drama are a middle-aged husband and wife with six children (though only the younger four still live at home and feature in the play), who live in a spacious Victorian house in Connecticut (New London, most likely). Other than the circumstances that both the parents and children are about ten years further along than we are in age, and the father, who runs the local newspaper, is a man of substance and influence in the town, the situation bears a remarkable resemblance to my own family--indeed, they even share their surname with us. When I was sitting on my porch reading it in the languid last days of August I could almost feel as if I were in the scene, or that it was all taking place in the dining room just behind me. Doubtless all of this influenced my mood and opinion with regard to the play, which were positive.



One of the reasons I was eager to embark on this particular list was all of the American literature that is on it between the Civil War and World War II that was once famous and alive in the general culture (or at least the literate parts of it) that has been forgotten or ceased to be as important. I find that I like a lot of that stuff, and always have. If you subscribe at all to generational theory, Eugene O'Neill's place in the saeculum lines up almost identical to mine (in the theory, generations last approximately 20 years, and there are four generational archetypes; Eugene O'Neill was born 82 years before I was, into the Lost Generation, the last 'nomad' cohort). Generally I don't think of myself as having much in common with Eugene O'Neill, but he was about the same age as I am now when he wrote this, and it was similarly in the midst of a period of difficult economic times and major transitions in the social and economic bases of life. That is about the extent of my insight as to why he suddenly broke from form and wrote a mildly nostalgic comedy--the only such effort of his career--in his mid-40s.

Being Eugene O'Neill even in his light play there is an alcoholic character whose behavior and issues are extreme and disturbing by our standards, and there is a whole long scene set in a dive bar among tarts and tough talking Mickeys. He can never get away from that world entirely.


George M Cohan as Nat Miller in the original production of Ah Wilderness!

The Bourgeois Surrender Challenge

The magic words from this book brought up a deluge of recent best-sellers, which produced a high-scoring and competitive challenge with a (to me) surpise winner.

1. John Sandford--Field of Prey.......................................................................2,972
2. Harlen Coben--Six Years..............................................................................2,798
3. Dale Carnegie--How to Win Friends and Influence People.........................2,306
4. J.R. Ward--Lover at Last..............................................................................2,138
5. Cassandra Clare--Clockwork Princess.........................................................1,919
6. Rick Riordan--The Lost Hero.......................................................................1,833
7. John Grisham--The Confession....................................................................1,665
8. Joel C. Rosenberg--Damascus Countdown.................................................1,568
9. Garcia & Stohl--Beautiful Darkness............................................................1,334
10. James Dashnel--The Scorch Trials............................................................1,326
11. Keith Richards--Life.....................................................................................991
12. Michael Connolly--Reversal........................................................................863
13. David Nicholls--One Day............................................................................622
14. Michael Crichton & Richard Preston--Micro..............................................592
15. Clive Cussler--The Striker...........................................................................591
16. C.J. Box--Breaking Point............................................................................556
17. Becca Fitzpatrick--Crescendo.....................................................................468
18. Bella Andre--Always on my Mind...............................................................341
19. J.R. Ward--Crave........................................................................................249
20. James Rollins--The Sixth Extinction..........................................................169
21. Tracie Peterson--A Sensible Arrangement.................................................140
22. Nicole Krauss--Great House......................................................................137
23. Peggy Hesketh--Telling the Bees................................................................106
24. Chris D'Lacey--Icefire................................................................................102
25. Snyder/Albuquerque/King--American Vampire, Vol. 1...............................88
26. Raymond Khoury--The Templar Salvation..................................................81
27. Wanda Brunstetter--The Healing Quilt........................................................76
28. Ned Beauman--The Teleportation Accident.................................................68
29. Kermit Lynch--Adventures on the Wine Route.............................................44
30. Rae Mariz--Unidentified...............................................................................43
31. Canfield & Hendricks--You've Got to Read This Book................................39
32. George Gissing--The Odd Women................................................................29
33. Sara Yogev--Couples' Guide to Happy Retirement......................................25
34. Emily Eden--The Semi-Detached Couple & The Semi-Detached House.......4
(tie) Elizabeth Taylor--At Mrs Lippincott's..........................................................4
36. Enid Bagnold--The Squire..............................................................................3
37. Rose Macaulay--Non-Combatants & Others..................................................1
38. Erle Stanley Gardner--Case of the Curious Spinster......................................0
(tie) A.E.W. Mason--Dilemmas............................................................................0
(tie) Patricia Lee McComber--Love Lost..............................................................0

The winner is a thriller, another murder book set in the midwest. I don't want to read it. All these murder books strike me as being the same after a while. Maybe it has literary qualities: the author was a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner as a journalist before becoming an author of thrillers. If nothing else, I suppose I could learn more about professionalism and the qualities it takes to ascend to that class by reading him. But then again, if I haven't grasped the tenets of professionalism in work by this point of my life, it seems unlikely I will ever be able to do so. My library owns three copies of Field of Prey, but they are all currently checked out, so I might be able to skirt it.

There are a number of books I would have read on this list if they had won. I would have read the Dale Carnegie, probably the Keith Richards. I definitely would have read the Nicole Krauss book (isn't she one of those contemporary with-it Brooklyn literary people?), the old writers at the bottom, Gissing and Bagnold and Eden and Taylor and Gardner. But they didn't win, and I must move on with the master list.