Monthly Archives: May 2016

“The Trials of a Common Pleas Judge” by The Honorable Mark I. Bernstein

I’m part of the baby boom retirement crush. Born in 1949, I have lots of company on the path from full time employment to whatever comes next. Presently, I am either employed half time, or semiretired, depending on when you ask me. My friends and I are busy cooking up retirement schemes and plans. Here’s one that is, so far, unique!

Mark Bernstein is writing a serial novel! You can see it at www.judgebernstein.org Two chapters have been posted, and he promises a new chapter each month. So far, it’s got atmosphere, and time travel. Of course, I like the fact that it takes place in Philadelphia. I can’t tell yet if it fits into the category of historical fiction.

My only prior experience with a serial novel was reading Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic by David J Schwartz in 2013. It was delivered to my Kindle weekly, one chapter at a time, one of many offerings in the what-happens-after-Hogwarts subgenre. Silly and fun! It read better when I finally had the whole book.

Mark Bernstein’s book is likely to be fun but not silly, and I expect to enjoy it.

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“Clinging to the Wreckage” by John Mortimer

A short time ago, on March 20, 2016, I reviewed the novel Quite Honestly by John Mortimer. Mortimer’s autobiography Clinging to the Wreckage: A Part of Life just turned up on my bookshelf unexpectedly. I didn’t know I owned it.

My initial reaction was that Mortimer came across better in fiction (particularly in his wonderful Rumpole of the Bailey stories and TV scripts) than in this autobiography. The chapters about his family growing up and his education in liberal British schools that we would call “private” were the best part of the book.

Readers who want to learn about England during and after World War II will especially enjoy Clinging to the Wreckage, as would those with an interest in modern British law and courts.

Clinging to the Wreckage was written when Mortimer was only 59. He lived to age 85, producing a second autobiographical volume in 1994 (Murderers and Other Friends: Another Part of Life) and a third in in 2000 (The Summer of a Dormouse: A Year of Growing Old Disgracefully). Both are available from Amazon used or on cassette tape. Considering the life he led, I hope to read these additional autobiographies even though I found parts of Clinging to the Wreckage to be rambling and somewhat disorganized.

I realized, glancing at a Wikipedia article, that a few years ago I read another of Mortimer’s novels, Summer’s Lease. I liked it, too. (Too bad I read it before I started blogging. It’s probably written up in a journal – somewhere…)

If Horace Rumpole was Mortimer’s only creation, he would be an author of considerable note, but he wrote so much more that he must surely be recognized as one of modern England’s most important authors. So much the better for all of us that he took neither England nor himself all that seriously.

“Fight” by Dan Barry, and reflections on brain injury

This long article by New York Times columnist Dan Barry (March 28, 2016) caught my attention because it is about a young boxer who died in his first professional fight at age 19.

I’m hypersensitive on the subject of brain injury, having watched a loved one make the difficult journey from coma and paralysis back to life. That dreadful injury was caused by an auto accident. I learned that rehabilitation of the brain is difficult, lengthy, expensive and uncertain as to outcome. It’s not like healing a fracture.

I find it impossible to accept a “sport” and “business” in our midst that leads to totally avoidable brain injuries and death.

Anthony Taylor and Ali Aljahmi were 24 and19 years old, respectively, when they fought in a church hall in Youngstown, Ohio. They competed in the super flyweight category, for boxers weighing 112 to 115 pounds. Taylor was 5 feet tall, Aljahmi a little taller. The fight was limited to four rounds. It seemed so uneven in the first round that fans called for the fight to be stopped. Taylor was staggering. But in the fourth round, it was Aljahmi who fell motionless.

When a 19 year old dies meaninglessly, someone is to blame. (I’m speaking as a parent here.)

I blame the church (Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church) that hosted the match. An event called “Season’s Beatings”? What were they thinking? Was it the best way to make money off their real estate? It’s legal, so it’s OK?

I blame the doctor, who was identified as a dermatologist. Without medical supervision, there’s no fight. Any doctor who stops to think knows that he/she cannot identify a brain bleed early enough to do anything about it. Why would a dermatologist take responsibility for the safety of a boxing match?

I blame the business of professional boxing, and the state agencies that regulate it.

Can anything be said in defense of boxing? I find a few hints in the article. Boxers learn focus and control.”…you can’t fight when you’re angry. Boxing is a thinking game,” according to Taylor. Additionally, a champion is a champion regardless of weight class. The world super flyweight champion may not get all the attention accorded to a heavyweight champion, but his status cannot be denied. Both these arguments can be made in favor of other, far less dangerous sports.

The argument is often made that boxing gets young strivers up and out of poverty. I consider this specious, and shameful to us as a society.

Boxing is legal because we are used to it. But it developed at a time when medical understanding of the human brain was limited, and being knocked unconscious was regarded as a very minor inconvenience. So much has been learned about neurology, especially in the past decade. Consider the many lawsuits against professional football for post concussion brain damage.

Aljahmi’s family and community took pride in his boxing, but I think they would probably prefer he was still among them.

Dan Barry writes regularly for the New York Times. In his column called “This Land”, he comments widely on American life and culture. He describes boxing as “risk(ing) cognitive ability for public enjoyment”. His next book will be released on May 17. The title is “The Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland”.

“Gilead: A Novel” by Marilynne Robinson

I was at a party a few weeks ago when a friend sat down and mentioned a book that it made her want to understand GRACE. She was talking theology.

The subject matter stayed with me but unfortunately I forgot the name of the book. Luckily my older son, who reads almost everything, was able to supply it, and I headed for the Library.

Gilead is a really wonderful book. An old minister named John Ames writes to his very young son, whom he knows he will not see grow up. The book starts straightforwardly, but the quiet of the small Iowa town is disturbed by the return of a wayward son, Jack Boughton, a namesake of the protagonist. Jack’s past is disturbing, and the Reverend Ames ponders warning his family against the outsider. The secret the tormented and difficult prodigal eventually reveals is unexpected and terribly painful.

Historically, this book deals with the American heartland, in particular Iowa and Kansas (at its bloodiest). When should Christians go to war? Ames interprets the influenza pandemic of 1918 as a sign from God, and subsequent wars as punishment for ignoring that warning.

This book is quiet and meditative, and lyrically beautiful. There’s no doubt in my mind that it qualifies as “literature”. I know I will read it again.

I read and enjoyed Housekeeping by Ms. Robinson a few years ago. Gilead is even better, and it is part of a trilogy! I look forward to reading the two additional novels and also her essays. I’ll start with the collection entitled When I Was a Child I Read Books.

“After Alice – A Novel” by Gregory Maguire

I don’t quite know how to categorize this book. I’d be inclined to say “fan fiction” but I’m quite ignorant about that, and this book seems to be more highly regarded. A blurb on the back cover says it was reviewed in Kirkus Reviews. So I guess it is a “real novel”.

After Alice is a take on the Lewis Carroll classic – not the first I’ve read. It’s whimsical to the point of being bizarre, but so was the original.

Most of the story is told from the point of view of Ada, who barely shows up in the original book. It’s clever and amusing, and the “identity” of the Jabberwocky is a surprise. What I can’t quite figure out is how Maguire came up with Siam, a boy escaped from American slavery, now cared for by a visitor to England. Scarred and traumatized, Siam decides to stay in Wonderland when Alice and Ada go back to their “regular” lives. Are all the characters in Wonderland similar displaced persons?

Maguire also wrote Wicked, a modern version of The Wizard of Oz and source for the wildly popular Broadway musical of that name, which I have not yet seen. I’ll take a look at Wicked (the book) before I decide about Gregory Maguire.