Category Archives: Uncategorized

“Used and Rare – Travels in the Book World” by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone

This cheerful little “book about books” was published in 1997. It’s a reminder how much has changed in 20 years. The Goldstones didn’t carry cell phones and rarely used the internet. Out of curiosity, I checked on their ages. Yes, just about my age…

I wonder if the Goldstones are undergoing the “stuff crisis” (aka DOWNSIZING) that has gripped me and so many of my friends. The “stuff” in question includes books. Many books! I feel that my relationship to the printed word has changed radically.

  • I use Kindle and recorded books
  • I patronize the public library
  • I’m trying very hard NOT to buy books
  • I’m trying to GET RID OF books constructively

So in some ways, its hard to sympathize with these somewhat compulsive book buyers.

A number of bookstores and dealers are mentioned by name in this book. I wonder how many are still alive, or still operating. I am pleased to say that Brattle Books in Boston (mentioned several times) is still going strong!

I was very interested in learning what books the Goldstones really loved to read. Maybe I need to take another look at Dickens. I seem to have missed John Dos Pasos entirely. Unfortunately, there’s no index in this book. I will have to skim through it again if I want to follow up on their literary tastes.

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“The Quiet Girl” by Peter Hoeg

Genre: crime fiction, sort of…aka, philosophical thriller (according to Amazon).

This book takes place in Denmark and was translated from Danish.

The plot is confusing, the characters interesting. The girl of the title remains mysterious. Hard to explain why I kept reading, but I did.

I’ve been told the test of “really good literature” is that you want to go right back to the beginning and read again. I re-read the first few chapters. I found that some intriguing elements of character from early chapters were not ever fully developed (psychokenesis?). Too bad. But lots of other good details emerged. Some reviewers refer to the mystical or metaphysical abilities of the hero.

Two other striking aspects of this book are the framework of a circus, and the science of geology. (Sounds crazy? Don’t blame me! I didn’t write it…)

The protagonist has an unusual (supernatural?) sense of hearing and a multidimensional relationship with classical music. He often refers to classical composers or pieces to explain his reaction to people or situations.

I recommend this book to whoever likes a book that slows you down a little. I returned it to the library, but may give it a second shot.

I believe I read the author’s Smila’s Sense of Snow a little before I started blogging in 2013. It was a blockbuster hit  (300 reviews on Amazon, four stars) and was made into a movie. Maybe I should dig out the comments in my old reading journal! If you saw the movie, please fill me in! Thanks.

“The Lost Island – a Gideon Crew Novel” by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Genre – adventure and action.

Don’t read this. Usually “adventure and action” is at least okay with me. But this was preposterous, and I didn’t finish it.

Ripping off The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle doesn’t count as “creative”.

My feminist sensibilities were offended by the male fantasy character of an incident early in the book, in which a female character was “created” and then dropped from the plot for no apparent reason. How come editors don’t ever why? 

Okay for rainy day beach reading, if absolutely nothing else is on hand.

“The Woman Who Smashed Codes – A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies” by Jason Fagone

This book was recommended to me by someone who said she couldn’t put it down, that it made her cry. I was equally entranced.

The life history of Elizebeth (sic) Smith Friedman (1892 – 1980) was an example of truth being stranger (and WAY more interesting) than fiction.

This is one of the “lost” stories of recent American history.

We are now, finally, as decades pass and TOP SECRET ULTRA documents from World War II are declassified, learning what our relatives/ancestors were doing during World War II. My family is turning up some surprises. Has this happened to you? Do you need to ask your grandparents (quickly!) for the whole story?

The book Code Girls by Liza Mundywas an excellent example of this.                                                                                                                     I blogged about it on December 2, 2017.

What made Elizebeth Smith Friedman’s life more interesting than fiction? Elizebeth was so entirely self made! She was the youngest of nine children growing up on an Indiana farm, and was only the second of them to go to college. Her unsupportive father loaned her the money, and charged interest. She majored in literature and studied several languages, then worked briefly as a high school principal.

One crucial, strikingly odd (and sometimes threatening) character in Elizebeth’s life was George Fabyan, a rich eccentric who patronized and cultivated an eclectic coterie of scientists and other intellectuals, many of whom lived at his Riverbank Estate outside Chicago.

At Riverside Estate, Elizebeth met William F Friedman, also a Fabyan protégé. The two were married in 1917. Friedman had studied agriculture (at my alma mater, Michigan State University!) and later genetics, at Cornell.

Fabyan employed Smith as a literary researcher and code breaker and Friedman as a plant geneticist.

Elizebeth and William developed into groundbreaking cryptographers. The science of code breaking had barely been invented when they began to work together. Cryptanalysis is a science, but also a highly intuitive endeavor. Success depends on the ability to see patterns in letters, words or numbers that appear random. After World War I, during Prohibition, Elizebeth broke codes used by criminal bootleggers and rumrunners, and testified against notorious mobsters in court. This brought her a measure of  public attention.

World War II raised the stakes on cryptanalysis. Successful code breaking contributed greatly to the Allied victory. WHAT IF THE US AND GREAT BRITAIN HAD NOT BOTH BROKEN ENEMY CODES AND KEPT THEIR INTELLIGENCE CAPABILITIES SECRET?? This book caused me to wonder what my life would have been like if the Allies had lost WW II. Would I have grown up in an occupied country? How long would Facism have persisted? Was the Cold War inevitable? The nuclear arms race?

Ironically, during World War II Elizebeth and William worked in different military agencies and were prohibited from discussing their assignments with each other. Loneliness was added to the other terrible wartime stresses they faced. William suffered from “nerves” (probably depression) at a time when little professional/medical help was available. Elizebeth “covered” for him and went to extremes to protect, support and encourage him. They loved each other devotedly for 52 years, until William died in 1969.

After WW II, Elizebeth received much less attention than William. Only recently have historians paid serious attention to Elizebeth’s incredible genius and military contributions.

Read this book! I predict it will be one of your favorites.

Taconic State Park, New York – Copake Falls

Around this time last year, I blogged about camping in New York State at Schodak Island State Park. This year we went back to Copake Falls, which we had last visited in 2011. The campground was slightly disappointing, but we had a great time.  Food and friends – the perfect combination. My thanks to BJC for the arrangements!

It didn’t rain!

Our fellow campers were pleasant, and observed quiet hours conscientiously.

Bird watchers reported many sightings, but the most interesting natural phenomenon was a fungus called “dead mans fingers”. This picture from Google Images gives you an idea of what we saw.

 

Dead mans fingers

 

Very strange! And so small (1/2 inch high) I could have missed it. It thrives on dead vegetation and falls in the category of decomposers, along with mushrooms. What would we do without them??

Sometimes I wonder how much longer I will continue to camp. Getting organized is so much work… Then I join my friends, and have so much fun.

“Expensive Habits” and other books by Peter Mayle

Expensive Habits

Expensive Habits is an amusing discussion of the ways you can spend LOTS of money, if you have it.

Other Peter Mayle books I have read:

  • A Year in Provence
  • Toujours Provence
  • Encore Provence
  • Hotel Pastis: A Novel of Provence

This could be tedious, but Mayle is so charming it’s easy to accept his obsession with the south of France. His descriptions of the countryside are so beautiful. But his best prose is saved for food and wine.

Definitely an author for travelers!

Sahara Sands – “Frog Slog”

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If you Google “Sahara Sands” you will find various businesses, but you won’t find anything about the patch of State (NJ) owned land I visited last Tuesday evening.

A “frog slog” is a specialized nature walk. This one was sponsored by the Great Egg Harbor River Watershed Association, and took place as darkness fell. Around 16 people of varied ages attended. Most (but not all) were dressed for swampy conditions and insect pests. Many carried nets, and there were two portable aquaria.

We were told the walk would be conducted on the principles of CPR. Not the usual medical CPR, but rather

  • Catch
  • Photograph
  • Release

Frogs are, after all, vertebrates, and some are protected by law. We spent a few minutes listening to recordings of frog calls.

We walked along a sand road and crossed through woods to a large, shallow pond. Those wearing high boots slogged out into the pond. The excitement began almost immediately. It was a perfect frog hunting night – warm and humid. Five or six species could be heard singing loudly at any one time. Various specimens were netted and photographed, along with insects, insect larvae and tadpoles.

On our way back, a large bullfrog was caught. In the net, its familiar deep call (jug-o-rum, jug-o-rum) changed to a pathetic whimper, sounding like a human child! We turned him loose, and off he swam.

WHY a frog walk? Because frogs are interesting, ecologically valuable and threatened by development. A frog walk is also a way of asserting the importance of Sahara Sands and other places that support wildlife like frogs. One of the “competing uses” for this land is recreation using off road vehicles (ORVs). Such use is incompatible with protection of wildlife. ORVs tear up the marshes and destroy native plants. The damage is largely irreversible.

At Sahara Sands the conflict between these two uses has not been resolved, and it HAS been politicized.

The more people who understand frogs and enjoy this wonderful PUBLICLY OWNED natural site, the better.

Photos by W Cromartie.

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