The Constant Reader: 2018

In addition to futilely trying to keep up with the recent issues of the planet’s two best magazines, The Sun [seven monthly issues still waiting for me to read them!] and The New Yorker [over three dozen weekly issues still piled up, un-read!], I did manage to read a few books this past year.

I partly blame Randy for my having read so few books this past year compared to the number of books read before we began spending so much time together. We do occasionally spend an hour here or there reading our separate books, but the total amount of time spent doing that has so far been dwarfed by the time we’ve spent this year bingeing on NetFlix and Amazon sitcoms, documentaries, and movies.

The parts of the not-many-books-read-this-year situation that I don’t blame on Randy:

  • Spending way too much time every day this past year reading Facebook posts instead of whatever else – including reading books! – that I could be doing with that time and energy.
  • The sad but indisputable fact that I no longer can sit and read for hours at a time without wanting to stop and take a nap! No one warned me that my getting older would not only require the need for stronger lighting and stronger eyeglasses but that I’d lose the energy to affect my reading habit! Boo, hiss!

Be that as it may, here are the books (and my mini-reviews of them) that I did manage to finish this year. I’m listing them here in the approximate order of how great of an impact they made on me or how much I loved them:

Wanderlust:                                                       A History of Walking (2000)                  by Rebecca Solnit

Solnit is one of my favorite living writers, and this is the second time I’ve read this book: I read a library copy nine years ago – and, mortifyingly didn’t remember a word of it, just the fact that I remembered loving it. Late last summer, when I began taking long walks most days to build up my stamina for my then-upcoming trip to Italy, I bought a copy of Wanderlust and am so glad I did. Not only because it took me so long to finish it (I took it with me to Italy, but didn’t get around to as much reading as I’d planned to do), but because Solnit includes so many excellent quotations about walking, which I am planning to add (eventually) to the Commonplace Book posted elsewhere on my blog.  Another unusual thing about Wanderlust is how each magnificent chapter could stand alone as an essay on a particular aspect of the history or psychology of walking: one wouldn’t need to read the chapters sequentially. The angles Solnit comes at her subject from are often unexpected ones, and many of her own sentences are also definitely quoteworthy. I won’t be surprised if I decide one day to read this book again for a third time – it’s that rich, that dense with insight and information. And I will certainly track down Solnit’s more recent books, some of which are probably based on screeds on her Facebook page (and elsewhere).

At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails  (2016)        by Sarah Bakewell

If there were ever an ideal book for Calvin to read, this must be it: it’s nonfiction, features multiple historical figures who are legends in the fields of philosophy and psychology (my two college majors and the two subjects that have most enthralled me all my life), told by a master story-teller who had already written another of my favorite books (How to Live: or, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer). The full subtitle of the book includes the names of the figures whose lives and works Bakewell covers: Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Bakewell’s masterpiece is a perfect blend of difficult concepts rendered understandable, meticulous historical research, fascinating backstories and spellbinding gossip, compelling speculation supported by startling insights – all of it produced in the most engaging prose imaginable. My highest praise for any book is that I know long before I finish reading it that I’m going to want to read it again, and this borrowed library book is one that I will definitely be buying my own copy of.

Emerson: The Mind on Fire (1995) by Robert D. Richardson, Jr.

A whale of a book (563 pages, excluding the notes), but completely enthralling – Richardson’s channeling of Emerson’s motivations and abiding interests are subtle and convincing. I soon got so exasperated at the number of intriguing (and obscure) book titles that Richardson mentions that Emerson read that I ended up buying a copy of the book so I can refer to it more conveniently. (Originally, I obtained my copy of this book from the library, after unearthing, late last year, a review of Richardson’s book that I’d saved from a 1995 (!) New Yorker.) I will definitely be investigating Richardson’s other books, which include a biography of Thoreau. And I am glad I at some point picked up a copy of Emerson’s selected essays, as I am now definitely going to read some of them. What an amazing mind – an authentic pioneer of the  intellect – and from now on a personal hero.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2008)                                        by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

I originally read this book ten years ago and recently re-read it after suggesting it to the book club I’m a member of. Shocking as it was to realize I’d forgotten all the details of the story, it was gratifying to find that my fond memories of its being one of those near-perfect novels were reinforced by a second reading. The fact that a former librarian (and her niece) wrote the book, and wrote it in the form of letters and journal entries made its near-perfection even sweeter. Our book club is looking forward to the movie based on the book that’s being released this year, hoping the screenwriter(s) didn’t mangle what is likely one of the most delightful novels you’ll ever read. Plus you’ll learn a lot about the five-year Nazi occupation of this British island, something I was unaware of until I stumbled upon this book.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2009) by Rebecca Skloot

If most nonfiction books were written this well, people would read fewer novels! Once I started this tale (for my book club), it was difficult to put it down until I finished it. It took ten years for Skloot to write this first book of hers; I hope I won’t have to wait that long before she writes another one, so I can read it also, regardless of what she decides to write about. Skloot is that good – and the amount of research that went into her writing is as impressive as her riveting writing style.

Tyrant: Shakespeare and Politics (2018) by Stephen Greenblatt

One of the joys of browsing the New Books shelf at my local library is discovering that one of my favorite authors has published a new book. When I recently stumbled upon Stephen Greenblatt’s latest, I instantly put aside everything else I was reading to start it. Tyrant, like his earlier The Swerve and even earlier Will in the World, is a tour de force. Very little that I’ve read since Mr. Trump was elected President has helped me better cope with this colossal blunder of the U.S. electorate (actually, the Electoral College), but Tyrant helps a lot. Greenblatt wrote it to cope with his own dismay at Trump and his allegedly widespread and numerous supporters. It’s a short book, but it is full of spot-on observations about the parallels between Mr. Trump and Shakespeare’s Richard II, Macbeth, Lear, and Coriolanus. And of course makes me even more impressed with Shakespeare’s penetrating insight into human nature, and Greenblatt’s ability to marshall those insights into such a compelling study.

Friends of Dorothy:                           Why Gay Boys and Gay Men Love  ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (2018)               by Dee Michel

It’s not just because Dee is a friend of mine that I love his book. I also love it because of the sheer thoroughness of Dee’s examination of such a specific, discrete fixture of gay male popular culture; because he is so even-handed in the way he examines the surprisingly numerous (and often complex) aspects of the topic at hand; because of his skill in researching so many relevant cultural factoids; and because of the masterful way he weaves into his arguments the personal anecdotes supplied by so many life-long Oz  enthusiasts. To render scholarly research on any topic in conversational, engaging prose is a rare accomplishment, and this book is a satisfying example of that. Not particularly a fan of the Oz phenomenon myself, I still found this study – and the marshaling of so much data (in footnotes as well as in the main text) – to be fascinating.

Lincoln in the Bardo (2017) by George Saunders 

What I liked best about this odd tale based on historical facts (Lincoln’s devastation at his young son’s unexpected death)  is the profound empathy with which Saunders’ reveals his characters, the convincing and appropriate archaic language he has them use, and Saunders’s occasional lyricism.  I’ve never read a novel structured so unusually, although by the end of the book that structure had become rather annoying.

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues (2017) by Pamela Paul

This memoir of how an introverted book nerd became editor of the New York Times Book Review is interlaced with remarkably articulate (and often humorous) asides on the pleasures and perils of book love. Paul entertainingly captures the complete range of often difficult-to-describe experiences with reading that every lifetime reader will recognize with glee (or chagrin). I am so glad I found this writer and this book (one of several she’s written).

The Solitary Vice: Against Reading (2008) by Mikita Brottman

Brottman is a psychotherapist and literature professor, and her book is an intriguing tonic for diehard bookaholics like me. The first half of her book, before she ventures more thoroughly into her personal reading habits and history, is the most interesting section, although the entire book held my interest. The striking parallels Brottman draws between the activities (often addictions) of reading and masturbation – and the similarities between the changed social attitudes about both – are compellingly and often amusingly described. Brottman’s humble but erudite writing style is engaging regardless of the specific literary territory she’s surveying, and she surveys a lot of them (e.g., science fiction, Gothic romances, true crime, comic books, psychological case studies). Every chapter of the book contains insights and shocks of self-recognition. The author’s list of works cited and consulted is fascinating, her list of relevant Internet sites is particularly useful), and her Acknowledgements page is as hilarious as it is unusual.

Ageless Soul: The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy (2017)  by Thomas Moore

Several of this prolific author’s previous bestselling books (The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, The Care of the Soul, A Religion of One’s Own, A Blue Fire: Selected Writings of James Hillman) have been on my To Be Read list, so when I found his latest at the library the other day, I figured I might as well finally get around to reading him – especially since this latest one addressed one of my more recent preoccupations: books about mindful retirement. I can understand why Moore’s books have been so popular: his style is very conversational and his arguments are non-combative and often persuasive, especially when Moore’s explaining Jungian-based theories of meaning (some of which – and with the pronounced exception of dream analysis) have held a long-time fascination for me). But I was surprised to find myself disappointed in this book. Perhaps I’ve already internalized most of the insights and advice on offer here, or I find Moore too repetitive, or both. Since I’ve already bought copies of those other books of Moore’s, I will eventually get around to examining them, but maybe not as soon as I was hoping to?

2018 Excursion to Spain

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Randy and I had several goals in mind for this trip. Having made such a great connection while traveling together (with three other friends) on a 2017 trip to Italy, we wanted to celebrate that experience with a sort of “anniversary trip” for just the two of us.

I was ready to re-visit England, but Randy, for his next overseas vacation, was  interested in seeing some of the Moorish cities in Spain, as well as a Neolithic site he’d read about that’s located in the south-central part of the country  Neither of us had been to Barcelona and we both particularly wanted to see it. Plus I had long wanted to visit Peg and Gary, who’ve wintered in Valencia for the past six years, not only because it had been a few years since we’d last visited, but also to discover why they had picked Valencia over all the other places they might have chosen to live when they’re not traveling elsewhere in Europe (where they’ve lived for several decades). Since Valencia isn’t too terribly far from either Barcelona or from Seville, Cordoba, Granada, etc., we decided on a three-week trip to Spain in October.

We divided our trip into three main components: a full week in Barcelona, a total of about a week in Valencia, and a road-trip in a rental car to some Moorish cities southwest of Valencia. Granada (where they keep the Alhambra) was on our original itinerary, but we changed our plans to see it when we learned (while in Valencia) that we’d not be able to book advance admission to the Alhambra until after Christmas.

One of the distinctive and surprising features of this trip for me was the way each destination turned out to be more interesting than the also-interesting place we’d just been.  Barcelona was suitably impressive – especially the Gaudi sites that we focused our time and money touring – but when we arrived in Valencia, I was immediately relieved to be in a smaller city. Ditto Seville and Cordoba.

That said, I am so glad I finally made it to Barcelona. Being there with Randy was a special treat, as it was fun not only to be traveling again with him but because Randy appreciates architecture and design as enthusiastically as I do myself.

Despite my long-time admiration of All Things Art Nouveau, I had somehow managed to spend 70 years with almost zero knowledge of the works of Antoni Gaudi. What a genius! I’d not encountered before anything remotely similar to his work, and am puzzled at why Gaudi has had so few imitators/successors. Each of the half-dozen or so Gaudi-designed buildings we visited was a revelation – and well worth the sometimes steep admission prices.

If you’ve not been to Barcelona, check out the Internet’s excellent exterior and interior photos of the Gaudi structures we toured. (Note: You may need to scroll down a bit to see the images at each of these links, and at the links to photos inserted elsewhere in this blogpost, but it’s worth the trouble!)

A few of the photos Randy took of some of these amazing buildings designed by Gaudi:

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I now understand why so many architecture fans rave about Barcelona. Not only is it where most of Gaudi’s buildings are located, but other Art Nouveau marvels are there as well. That includes the Music Palace that we toured:

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But my favorite non-Gaudi Art Nouveau extravaganza was the recently-restored St. Paul Hospital, a huge complex of amazing structures that took the better part of a day to tour.

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Of course, Barcelona is full of wonderful architecture in other styles and from other eras as well:

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While staying in Barcelona, we booked a day trip to Figueres, the birthplace of Salvadore Dali and where he renovated an old theater to house a museum for his work (and where he is buried). Both the inside and the outside of this building is appropriately bizarre, and it was gratifying to see more of Dali’s art after earlier this year having seen what’s on offer at the Dali museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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Our guided bus trip to Dali-Land also featured a stop in the only other small town in Spain we got to walk around in, the charming and ancient town of Girona.

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After enjoying a walk through the medieval part of the town…

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…our favorite discovery there was the excellent museum of cinema located there (better, I thought, than a similar museum I’ve seen in Paris).

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After our stimulating and somewhat exhausting week of sightseeing in Barcelona, we took a train along the coast to Valencia where Peg and Gary have been spending each winter for the past six years.

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I quickly came to understand why Peg and Gary prefer to live in Valencia – at least in the winter – rather than, say, in Barcelona or Madrid. Spain’s third-largest city, Valencia’s got all the charm of Barcelona without Barcelona’s (or Madrid’s) bustle, traffic, and sprawl; it has fewer tourists, and, like Barcelona, is located on the country’s Mediterranean coast, so the winter weather is mild and dry most of the time. Like Barcelona, the food markets, the parks, the pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, and the cultural activities on offer are exceptional. 

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And although Valencia features zero Gaudi buildings, it’s got plenty of Calatrava architecture to marvel at:

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After re-energizing at Peg’s and Gary’s spacious, comfortable, and conveniently-located rented apartment in Valencia and after Peg and Gary showed us their town, we rented a car and headed further south along the coast in search of presumably quaint fishing villages. Discovering to our chagrin that the coastal towns we’d read about or seen videos of are actually decidedly non-scenic, highrise-infested resort towns, we promptly then headed west.

We devoted approximately half of our week-long road trip to sightseeing in Seville and Cordoba (two days and two nights in each of these towns). Just as Valencia seemed like a scaled-down version of Barcelona, Seville seemed like a smaller version of Valencia, with Cordoba feeling slightly smaller than either of those three metropolises.

As interesting as Seville and Cordoba turned out to be, we found the most congenial and easy to navigate destination was the smallest town we visited, a place I’d never heard of before called Antiquera.

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Antiquera was also the site of the Neolithic structures (temples, probably) that Randy wanted to check out:

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Spain is approximately the size as Texas, and the distances we traveled between the towns we visited were considerable. Although we certainly managed to see a lot in three weeks time – and did a lot of walking in each town we spent time in, I don’t think we tried to cover too much ground during our three-week vacation.

True, we’d hoped to find more visit-worthy hilltop villages than we managed to find along our route through south-central Spain. In retrospect, it would’ve made more sense – or at least have been cheaper – if we’d used trains instead of renting a car to get to the cities we spent the majority of our time in. On the other hand, if we’d done that, we’d’ve missed two unscheduled scenic drives that ended up being some of the most spectacular hours of our trip.

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In any case, wandering around the steep, narrow, winding streets of Antiquera reminded me of how – is it an age-related thing??? – I am coming to prefer smaller European towns (especially their medieval town centers) over the admittedly more jam-packed-with-touristy-sites national or regional capitals. The bigger places are more difficult to easily navigate (especially on foot!) and there’s always more to see than one could possibly get to unless one lives there.

After our two nights in Antiquera, we headed for Seville, where we also stayed two days and nights. When we finally located our difficult-to-find hotel, we were astounded to discover yet another Calatrava mega-sculpture looming over the hotel’s parking lot: 

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Seville reminded us both of a calmer version of Valencia, and it features a river flowing through the middle of its oldest sections instead of a 15-mile-long linear park that cuts through the middle of Valencia (which replaced a river the Valencians re-routed to prevent the river’s next catastrophic flooding).

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On one of the rare nights in Spain when we were out and about instead of collapsing in a hotel room after a long day of sightseeing and/or driving, we had dinner at a restaurant on the river just as the full moon was rising over the city:

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After puttering around Seville, we headed to Cordoba for two days and nights there. Seeing the restored remains of its Moorish-era mosque was our principal reason for going there, and we were not disappointed. The interior of this huge building is one of the most serene spaces we found ourselves in during the trip. 

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In addition to the Gothic cathedral that the city’s Christians built right in the middle of the mosque after defeating the Moors who had occupied this part of Spain for centuries,

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…the mosque complex also sports a minaret that Randy decided to climb while Cal took a nap along the edge of a fountain in the main courtyard of the mosque. 

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Another highlight of our Cordoba visit were the dozens of courtyards we toured:

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We were also impressed by the bridge across the river in Cordoba (the same river that flows through Seville). The bridge (now used only by pedestrians) was built during the time of Julius Caesar:

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After Cordoba, we returned our rental car to Valencia and spent a couple more days visiting with Peg: Gary had left the city for Amsterdam, to put the boat he and Peg recently bought into storage for the winter; they’ll move into it next spring.

On our next-to-final evening in Valencia, Randy and I traveled to the edge of the city, near the beach area that Peg and Gary had taken us to when we’d been in Valencia the week before. Our destination: a circus Randy had seen an advertisement for.

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The circus was billed as “Apocolypsis: The Circus of Horrors,” and turned out to be a sort of Goth version of Cirque du Soleil. 

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The circus performers (including many of them doing their stunts on roaring motorcycles) all had tattoos, wore elaborate (often elaborately tattered) costumes. Most of the males – and not a few of the females – wielded ropes, whips, and/or chains as part of their performances. There was a delightfully prolonged punk-style Flamenco standoff. Everything was accompanied by loud and relentless electronic music, with frequent intervals of Mohawk-sporting “clowns” yelling at and kibbitzing with the audience (all the ranting, alas, in Spanish). The spectacle was enhanced with impressive lighting effects and stupefying visual projections. It was a circus all right!

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Here’s a selfe of us waiting for the show to start, with Cal definitely uneasy about what’s likely to unfold:

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A very, um, different kind of cultural event (at least for Calvin – Randy’s a longtime fan of all sorts of circus things). It turned out to be definitely worth its 30-Euro ticket price.

What else to mention about our recent adventures in Spain?

Well, besides all the sightseeing we did – and we did do a lot of walking: on some of our excursions, Randy’s pedometer reported that we’d walked seven miles; on another day, nine! –  we also enjoyed a lot of terrific meals.

Having failed on my previous trip to Spain (back in 1983) to figure out how the tapas tradition worked, I was determined to master that this time around, and we had some wonderful tapas lunches and dinners. Eating two tapas meals a day for most of three weeks is a lotta tapas! Randy’s snapshots of a sampling of those delicious meals:

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In addition to the gustatory delights, we happened upon many visual ones that were not on our list of destinations. All of the cities we visited featured multiple murals and street art and graffiti was ubiquitous, some of it very arresting:

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Of course, we toured or peeked inside many an ancient church as we tramped through the cities we visited. Very few of these sanctuaries, however – despite their extravagant (and often Baroque) use of gold leaf and the astounding paintings on their walls and ceiling vaults – were as interesting as the Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and Cordoba’s mosque turned out to be.

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As with most European cities, the storefronts and inventive window displays in the Spanish cities we visited offered plenty of free eye candy. Among its other delights, Barcelona is home to what I now consider to be the best paper goods stores I’ve ever drooled over! (One of them was five stories tall.)

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Finally, another memorable thing about this trip was the amazing tile work we saw everywhere we went. I eventually just stopped taking photos, there were so many photo-worthy tile displays. But when it came to my deciding what sorts of souvenirs I wanted to bring home, the things I bought usually ended up being tiles or images of tiles on magnets, coasters, etc. If you’re a fan of tile work, Spain should definitely be part of your travel bucket list!

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If it seems like we crammed a lot into our three-week vacation, it’s because we did! And even though I did a lot better than I have in the past with pacing myself and not burdening my traveling companion by overdoing it, there were definitely times when this 70-year-old tourist was very much in need of a nap! And, dear reader, I took one whenever I could!

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On Rediscovering, in Troubling Times, an Excellent Writer

E.B. White

The book Randy chose to take along with him on our recent three-week trip to Spain was a paperback copy of one of E.B. White’s book of essays, One Man’s Meat (1942).

Several evenings during our trip, I borrowed the book and dipped into it at random. What I found there was a series of flawlessly written essays on all manner of subjects, each of them in the wry, understated voice White was so famous (and beloved) for, both before and after his stints as a staff writer at The New Yorker, and before and after he published the immensely popular children’s books Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, and before and after his and his co-author’s guide for writers, the perennial bestseller Elements of Style. 

When Randy finished his copy of One Man’s Meat, he gave it to me so I could begin reading it cover to cover, which I promptly resolved to do after discovering that some of the essays it contains were not included in the volume of White’s collected essays that (along with a copy of his collected letters) I’ve owned and chereished since the late 1970s.

In addition to re-living White’s humbly-told (and often hilarious) tales of White’s adventures as an amateur farmer who, with his wife and son, had de-camped from Manhattan to Maine, I came upon (in the form of a discursive book review) some unexpected and amazingly prescient comments of White’s about fascism.

Here’s what, seventy-eight years ago – and seventy-six years before Mr. Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency –  White had to say:

“…I think I shall go on resisting any change I disapprove of, for I do not think that change, per se, is anything much, nor that change is necessarily good….Fascism sins against Nature more grievously than anything I ever saw, because it proposes to remove (and does remove) so much of what is natural in people’s lives….[We should] resist the forces which are pledged to destroy parliaments and senates and congresses and newspapers and courts and universities.

The future…seems to be no unified dream but a mince pie, long in the baking, never quite done. The push of eager, dispossessed, frustrated people, united zealously under a bad leader, is one ingredient; the resistance of those whom this push hurts or offends or threatens is another….

…[Fascism] is just the backwash of the past and has muddied the world for centuries.…

…[Name] one new social or economic force that has been discovered by dictators. I can’t think of any that aren’t as old as the hills. The force which Hitler [employed] is the force generated by people who have stood all the hardship they intend to, and are exploding through the nearest valve and it is an ancient force, and so is the use of it by opportunists in bullet-proof vests….[I]t is a common fallacy to say that because a movement springs from deep human distress it must hold thereby the seed of a better order. The fascist ideal, however great the misery which released it and however impressive the self-denial and the burning courage which promote it, does not hold the seed of a better order but a worse one, and it always has a foul smell and a bad effect on the soil. It stank at the time or Christ and it stinks today, wherever you find it and in whatever form, big or little – even here in American, the little fascists always at their tricks, stirring up a lynching mob or flagellating the devil…. The forces are always the same – on the people’s side frustration, disaffection, on the leader’s side control of hysteria, perversion of information, abandonment of principle. There is nothing new in it and nothing good in it, and today when it is developed to a political nicety and supported by a formidable military machine the best thing to do is to defeat it as promptly as possible and in all humility….

…It is of course anybody’s privilege to believe that a good conception of humanity may be coming to birth through the horrid forms of Nazism, but it seems to me far more likely that a good conception of humanity is being promoted by the stubborn resistance to Nazism on the part of millions of people whose belief in democratic notions has been strengthened. Is my own intellectual resistance, based on a passionate belief that the ‘new order’ is basically destructive of universal health and happiness, any less promising than the force of nazism itself, merely because mine does not spring from human misery but merely from human sympathy?I don’t see why. And I do not regard it as a sin to hang fast to principles of a past which I approve of and believe are still applicable and sensible merely because they are, so to speak, ‘past’ and not ‘future.’ I think they are future too, and I think democracy…is the most futuristic thing I ever heard of, and that it holds everything hopeful there is, because ‘demos’ means people and that’s what I am for, and whatever Nazi means it doesn’t mean people, it means ‘the pure-bred people,’ which is a contemptible idea to build a new order on. …I still think [‘democracy’] a good word and a beautiful word…and I find the wave which it sets up a more agreeable wave than any other, and more promising and more buoyant and prettier to look at….I know a lot of things can start with human misery and not bring anything except more human misery….”

 – Excerpted from E.B. White’s December 1940 essay “The Wave of the Future,” reprinted in One Man’s Meat (1942).

I decided to re-read White’s essays to temper the often-horrifying news I glean daily (and numbly “Share”) from the politically-oriented posts on Facebook. I might’ve expected to find something prescient about fascism in a collection of, say, George Orwell’s essays. But E.B. White? Now I respect him – both as a writer and as a thinker –  more than ever!

Decatur Book Festival 2018!

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Another Labor Day Weekend, another DBF for Calvin.

After examining this year’s festival schedule, I headed into the fray without being excited by any particular event on offer this year, other than the opportunity to see and hear one of my living literary (and political) heroes, Armistead Maupin.

Fortunately, I was delighted by every single one of the talks I decided to attend. Without exception, the authors and their interviewers were intelligent, informed, witty, and engaging – a lot to expect of any speaker!

Only one of the presentations (and one of the most unexpectedly enthralling) was not connected to a new or newish book: “Volumes: An Artist in the Stacks” featured, along with archivist Tamara Livingston, photographer Sara Hobbs, who described her project of examining (of all things) the marginal notes in some of the many items in the rare book collection at Kennesaw State University’s library.

Each of the other presentations featured interviews with the authors of various recently-published books. The panels I chose to attend were about books about as different from each other as one could imagine:

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One of the panels, “Clever Resistance,” featured the authors of two different books on a related subject:

Shw Caused a Riot covere   Sings of REsistance

 

As much as I enjoyed all the sessions I attended, the interview with Armistead Maupin was the highlight of this year’s festival. It was conducted to a huge and enthusiastic audience that filled the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church of Decatur. The kindheartedness, perspicacity, humility, sense of humor, and generosity of this endearing man were so wonderful to be reminded of. The book festival also featured a showing of the 2017 documentary about Maupin, The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin (which Randy and I had recently seen at home via Netflix), but the interview the following day focused on Maupin’s recently-published memoir:

Armistead Maupin book cover

I can’t find the words to describe how stimulating (and hilarious) each of these presenters was – and how heartening it was to mingle with so many thousands of other book lovers – and  I came away Sunday afternoon completely convinced that I should continue to make time each year to attend the Decatur Book Festival.

Meanwhile, I can set aside more time in my life to reading books (and to posting mini-reviews of those books to “The Constant Reader” sidebar section of this blog), and to posting more frequently to my other blog, devoted to the celebration of all things bookish.

 

 

Cirque du Soleil!

Cirquedusoleil_Corteo_Chandelier_2
Last night Randy and I and our friend Pat, plunked down some big bucks ($67 each) and drove all the way to Duluth, Georgia to see the latest incarnation of Cirque du Soleil.

Totally worth the expense and the journey!

Having seen two previous Cirque shows (each of which friends had treated me to), I had high expectations of what I would behold, and this version proved to be just as enthralling as the earlier shows.

The imagination that spawns these Cirque spectacles is beyond impressive, and the atmospherics (including the excellent-as-always music) did not disappoint.

Here are a few photos (from the Internet) of a few of the marvels on offer in the production entitled Corteo (Italian for cortege):

proscenium

proscenium scrim

chandelier with flyer         Cirquedusoleil_Corteo_BouncingBeds_2ring lady

best balloon photo

helium balloons

Perry Treadwell, 1932-2018

Perry-Treadwell-pic-360x480Perry Treadwell was an extraordinary man who I met in the late 1970s as part of a men’s consciousness-raising group he had founded. Perry was a member of the local Quaker congregation whose weekly silent meditations I attend. He died his home in Decatur on June 25th.

Perry was one of several local Quakers who I considered a local hero for the social change projects he devoted his life to. In recent years, Perry’s wife Judith Greenburg had volunteered many hours at the Meetinghouse library, whose operation I have coordinated for several decades.

At Perry’s memorial service last month, those of us who had gathered at the Meetinghouse to share our memories of Perry heard two poems that Perry had written.

Here’s an excerpt of one of them:

Friendship takes energy,

And the courage to reach out.

If your life is too busy to reach out,

Simplify.

Remember that, in the end,

The only things to hold onto

And will hold onto you

Are friends.

Here’s the entirety of the second poem of Perry’s that we heard:

Center down to the depths of unthinking.

Find your inner calm.

See how the world moves

in its rhythms.

 

Feel the rhythm of the universe

To which all things belong

And to which they return.

 

If you don’t feel the rhythm

You remain confused in darkness.

Coming from and returning to the light,

You accept, trust.

Distance brings closeness.

Calm brings laughter.

Open your heart.

Be a Friend.

Being a Friend to your Self,

You can float through the

Ups and downs of life,

And prepare for death.

I will miss this thoughtful, sometimes cantankerous, and always generous man.