For information about American silver and for slide shows related to my courses, see the Pages listed on the right.
Julius Lester, The Autobiography of God. Rabbi Rebecca reads his autobiography and meets God face-to-face. She challenges him about evil in the world, just as Julius Lester challenges us and our theological conventions in this stimulating novel.
George Howe Colt, The Big House. The big house was a summer house on Cape Cod, the seasonal center for a large Boston clan, who found themselvs with more family than money as the generations moved along. This offers us an absorbing picture of what tradition can mean. A diagram of the many cousins would have helped.
Garison Keillor, We Are Still Married. And he is still the voice of Lake Wobegon in this rich mixture of stories, sketches and poems.
Willard Uphaus, Commitment. Uphaus, a peace activist and director of a summer camp in New Hampshire went to prison for a year in 1960 rather than give the names of his guests to investigators. He spent his 70th birthday in jail. Was it worth it? He explains.
Pat Murphy, Falling Woman. A female archaeologist exploring a Mayan site is joined by her daughter — and by a shadowy priestess from the past. Who is crazy here? With good realities of excavation and character and an admixture of appropriate fantasy, Murphy suggests an answer.
Anne Tyler, A Spool of Blue Thread. I enjoy Tyler’s novels of family life in Baltimore. Her voice continues in my head long after I close the book. This is a rare gift in an author, not explainable. With George Eliot, for example, the characters resonate but not the voice. With Dickens, it’s the other way around. This one is middling good Tyler. Her admirers should read it and those who don’t know her work should start with The Accidental Tourist.
Anne Lamott, All New People. Coming of age novel, set in California where everything in changing — ticky tacky houses, parents’ marriages, youthful friendships, time and troubles.
Graham Greene, The Quiet American. A rereading of this classic novel of foreigners in Viet Nam brought some new reactions this time. The beautiful Vietnamese woman seems a cardboard figure now. Can anyone get it right in this unfortunate country?
Myerson & Shealy, eds., The Journals of Louisa May Alcott. Here we have the complete journals, so far as they can be reconstructed from various sources. Like most of us, Alcott enjoyed her life when it worked out as she wanted, felt down when illness took away her pleasures and her ability to work.
M. L. Stedman, The Light between Oceans. Janus, a lighthouse named in honor of the god who looks both forwards and back, is the setting for a story of love and loss. Affecting, but at times contrived and improbable, a baby is lost and then found, loved and then lost.
Julius Lester, Lovesong. Lester, a successful black writer, often seen as a civil rights activist converted to Judaism in mid life. It was an expression of who he was, not a contradiction. Others did not see it that way. In this memoir, he explains.
How long have I been blogging here? I looked back at old posts and find that I started in 2009, more or less. I had been posting some comments at an earlier group site but became dissatisfied with it, so started Silver Season/Silver Threads. In March and April of 2009 I pasted in my reading lists from the earlier site and started blogging here. I also transferred silver reference material from a previous website. That was over six years ago.
Every month I open a draft post and enter each book as I complete the reading. My earlier ambition to post a longer comment on each book faded rather quickly, but for a long time I posted perhaps eight times a month, then six and, more recently about four. I’m reading about as much as ever, but talking about it less. This month I celebrated my 84th birthday. Yes, celebrated, because if you can live this long and and be reasonably compos mentis, it is an occasion to celebrate. Still, I think it is time to mostly retire. I expect to continue to post monthly reading reports — they are a convenient way to look back and see what I have read. I’ll continue with family posts at my other blog greiderclan.wordpress.com. If there is something I really want to say, I may say it here, but don’t expect too much.
It has been my great pleasure to meet other book lovers here and at other blogs. Look out! If I am currently reading your blog, I may have more energy now to comment at length. Meanwhile. you can still stop by once a month to see what I have been reading.
World Fellowship is an adult camp near Conway, New Hampshire. Every several years, my husband and I spend a few days there, enjoying the mountain air, the good food, and the fellowship of others also interested in world peace, equal justice under law, and preserving the environment. Speakers address a wide variety of topics from why we should not invade Iraq (before we did) to the welfare of local loons (birds, not people). All of this was too radical during the McCarthy era and Louis Wyman, the then attorney general of New Hampshire, began an investigation of World Fellowship and its director, Willard Uphaus.
Willard Uphaus was a peace activist, working with and for church groups and labor organizations, who became director shortly after the camp was founded. During Uphaus’ meetings with Wyman he answered his questions and invited him to World Fellowship. Wyman demanded a great deal of information, including a list of all those who had been guests of World Fellowship. Uphaus refused.
“The attempt of the attorney general of New Hampshire to use the State Subversive Activities Act of 1951 to harass and intimidate me and to destroy the work of the World Fellowship of Faiths by demanding the names and addresses of our 1954 guests, the identity of our employees, and the correspondence with speakers, is utterly contrary to the cherished tradition of religious freedom and peaceable assembly enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. This action is a direct invasion of Christian conscience, an authority higher than that of the State, because my conscience tells me that to give the names and addresses of people who, to my knowledge, have never done anything to injure their country and who came to World Fellowship solely for vacation, recreation and friendly discourse, would turn me into a contemptible informer. To do so would subject them to possible harassment and embarrassment and add to the general suspicion and hysteria that prevail.”
He took his stand on conscience like Thoreau and Gandhi and Martin Luther King and, like them, he had to pay the price for his civil disobedience. He lost in the New Hampshire courts, the New Hampshire Supreme Court and, finally in the U.S. Supreme Court. In his dissent in the case, Justice Black said,
“My guess is that history will look with no more favor upon the imprisonment of Willard Uphaus than it has upon Udall, Bunyan or the many others like them. For this is another of that ever-lengthening line of cases where people have been sent to prison and kept there for long periods of their lives because their beliefs were inconsistent with the prevailing views of the moment.”
At the age of 69, Uphaus entered Boscawen prison for a year, having his 70th birthday there. In the tradition of other prisoners of conscience, while there he wrote Commitment. He explains his commitment by telling the story of his life, born on a farm in Indiana, teaching and attending college, exploring religious studies at Yale, and working in and for a variety of good causes. The opening sections of the book are quite interesting, a very American story of an unsophisticated but intellectually curious young man exploring the world and deciding what it means to him. The middle part drags – too many organizations, too many names, too many causes and petitions – but certainly gives a strong sense of a man who is both a worker and a dreamer. The final portions of the book are a moving account of how the court system failed him and how his experiences in prison enlarged his views. Uphaus looked upon his fellow prisoners as more subject to injustice than he. Uphaus had legal representation as well as friends to fight for him; they did not. When asked to say grace for the prisoners on Thanksgiving, he said it this way.
Oh, Lord, we pray for a society that calls itself Christian, yet blights the flower of youth, and then casts off those who have fallen by the way. Somehow, O God, touch the callous of heart, who, seeing the fallen victims of our social sins, pass coldly by on the other side without penitence for their share in a common woe. Our Father, give us the strength and vision to recast the foundations of our present order so that all may be upheld by the sense of sharing in the good life. Give us the wisdom to see life whole.
Willard Uphaus is gone now, but I can sadly report that not much has changed. His words still speak to conscience today.
This post is dedicated to all those who have ever read The New Yorker.
If you know Garrison Keillor only through his News from Lake Wobegon on the radio or perhaps by seeing him in the movies or on TV, you have missed him as a writer. This collection of over 70 stories, sketches, poems and pieces is impossible to sum up. In most of them I hear his voice behind the words; in some I hear another voice. Sometimes I like it, but sometimes I prefer the one from Lake Wobegon.
Here is a teaser from a piece called The Talk of the Town Squad. He imagines a great community celebration and parade honoring “óur own industry, the unsigned-writing trade”:
A fine autumn day in busy Midtown, the smell of burning pretzels in the air, and as we trudge east on 44th, slightly slumped from months of bending over the crop, the sight of crowds behind police barricades and of television crews and the strains of journal music put a spring in our step, we run a comb through our hair, we begin to walk tall: our day of days, come at last. The honor guard of editors swings by, carrying ceremonial carbines and Old Glory (with a few stars and stripes deleted), and the Newsstand Bank, playing the “Washington Post March,” followed by crack typing-drill squads, their Underwoods draped with fresh ribbons. Then come dozens of marching units from all segments of the anonymous-print industry: advertising men and women jogging hup-hup-hup-hup in their smart gray parachute pants and name-brand T-shirts; authors of catalogue copy, instruction manuals, form letters, autobiographies of famous illiterates; Times editorial writers, in their familiar long black robes rented by the hour; an army of editorial assistants and researchers; the Obituary Guild; the book-jacket brigade; the bumper-sticker battalion; the press-release regiment; and, toward the tail end of the procession, us, our bunch, the tiny Talk of the Town squad, marching triple-spaced and chanting, “Roses are red, so are
If you ask me whether or not I believe in God, sometimes I say yes and sometimes I say no. It depends on what I think you mean by “god”. Is it the old man with the beard and the outstretched hand shown to us by Michelangelo or it is something like a New Age aura? Once, when I tried to explain to a friend the Eternal that I believed in, she said in the scornful tone of one for whom true faith was hard work, “Why anyone can believe that!” Right. Time will pass and the earth will spin and gravity – whether Newton or Einstein’s version – will continue to gravitate.
So what god does Rabbi Rebecca Nachman meet in Julius Lester’s novel, The Autobiography of God? First, before we meet god, we get to know Rebecca, who has discharged herself from her dwindling congregation and become a counselor at a liberal, secular college in Vermont. She was wounded as a child, and it still shows in a limp. I sense a certain defiance in her reluctance to explain, her interest in dressing fashionably.
Was it not adorning God when she adorned herself? Despite her limp, and the nose that was a little too large, the hair just a bit too curled, the eyes that were a little too round, the lips that were a little too full, and yes, the breasts that seemed ready to burst with too much milk (though that would never happen), she took the time to take what God had given her and transform it into a vessel of beauty.
In her Vermont life, Rebecca maintains a symbolically empty house, refusing to engage, until events engage her. A Torah scroll arrives; she is visited by a representative of the dead Jews who once possessed it; she is challenged to read the autobiography which God has prepared just for her, written in Biblical Hebrew on the finest parchment.
Gradually, over centuries, I watched as humans learned that they were spirit as well as material, and they saw me as the source of that spirit. In every language they were ascribing names to me – Legba, Elohim, Shaddai, Zeus, Brahman, Atman, Juno, Athena, Zarathustra, and on and on.
Rabbi Rebecca is not the only lonely one.
Seeing people murdered in the name of God and Love made me lonelier than I had ever been.
Loneliness led to self-expression.
Writing is a bridge from one solitude to another, and that was what I craved – to be relieved of the burden of my aloneness and share the truth of who I was with another.
What was the truth of who he was? I won’t tell you. To meet god face-to-face with Rebecca and hear his explanation of the problem of evil in the universe, read this novel.
It is a very nervy book. Maimonides says that we should not try to define or describe God because we may get it wrong and then we will be worshipping a false god, an idol. Yet, Lester, a black male writer who converted to Judaism, offers us a fantasy in which god finally appears in unexpected form to a white woman who was born Jewish. As I said, it’s a very nervy book. Lester partakes fully in the Jewish zest for scriptural disputation and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
In our family we take cousins seriously. The son-in-law of my husband’s second cousin recommended Julius Lester to me. Thank you, Cousin Sol.
Allegra Goodman, Paradise Park. In this novel by the author of Kaaterskill Falls, young Jewish drifter-girl seeks spiritual enlightenment. I enjoyed this picareque account of her 20 years of journey from Christianity to Buddhism and back to several flavors of Judaism. Warning: This story will offend the orthodox.
Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. A member of a most unusual family tells the story of her vanished older brother and twin sister. I was drawn in completely. Who disappeared them, and why?
Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography. Wright explains it all — his life, his architecture, his opinions. I have posted some comments on his use of language, but there is much, much more to enjoy here.
Graham Greene, England Made Me. Graham Greene never lets you down, reliably providing plot and characters and a certain atmosphere. In this lesser-known novel, the atmosphere is England, with its clear class structure and knowledge of what is and is not done. The characters leave England, but England does not leave them.
Willa Cather, The Troll Garden and Selected Stories. This edition contains all the stories in The Troll Garden, Cather’s first published short story collection (1905), as well as four stories published before that time. Often described as the chronicler of the pioneer West, Cather here shows that she is also the chronicler of art, artists, and the pain artistic effort can cause themselves and others.
Ellen Moody, Trollope on Net. The “Net” is the Internet and Moody offers us a record of discussion there of some of Trollope’s novels. Both aspects of the book interested me: 1) the liveliness of on-line interactions and 2) the content of the discussions, along with Moody’s insightful comments.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance. I find it hard to warm to Hawthorne, but I read this novel out of interest in Blithedale, the farming community supposedly based on Brook Farm, the utopian effort which Hawthorne himself joined briefly. The Blithedale Romance is mostly romance with very little Blithedale.
Michael Connelly, The Drop. The next in the suspense-filled series featuring L A detective Harry Bosch. Bosch contemplates the attractions of retirement while dealing simultaneously with two politically-fraught cases.
I took a graduate school course in Victorian Literature, English of course, and dead white male almost exclusively. We read Matthew Arnold and Robert Browning intently and fussed over Carlyle. There was very little interest in what people at that time were actually reading; instead, we looked back from our present wisdom to decide the relevance of what the Victorians chose to write about. The Bronte sisters, George Eliot and Charles Dickens were mentioned, grudgingly, but we didn’t sample their work. Thackeray was modestly admired and we were encouraged to read Vanity Fair.
If the name of Anthony Trollope was ever spoken in graduate school, it went by so quickly it did not register. I had to discover him 20 years later when Public Television broadcast The Pallisers, a couple of dozen episodes of costume drama with superb dialog based on his political novels. I started with the first of them, Can You Forgive Her? and never looked back. I was delighted to find that Trollope wrote so many books because I could anticipate many years of reading pleasure.
As followers of this blog may remember, I recently wrote about Ruth apRoberts’ The Moral Trollope and recommended it to those who want more insight into how Trollope created his narrative magic. Now I recommend another book about his writings, Trollope on the Net by Ellen Moody. The premise of the book is a bit of a gimmick because “the Net” is the Internet.
In October 1995 I proposed, to those people who were on a Trollope list I was on who might want to, that we read a novel by Trollope at the same time. We would do this in a way that would enable us to talk about the novel with a vivid shared memory of the same parts of the text.
The group chose the books to discuss – after much prior discussion of what to discuss – and usually some 20 to 30 readers commented and responded to comments. What Moody offers in her book is a fascinating account of the reading experience itself, as the various participants responded to different events, such as the seduction of a female character.
It was then conversation became vigorous. People care about their views about what is morally good and bad, and they identify with characters in ways that are often shaped by particular, private and sometimes painful experiences: they may be anxious to distance themselves from a particular character or to integrate that character’s experience into their own; they may feel personally threatened or hurt lest something precious to them to taken away if their view of a character is not validated by other readers.
Moody reports on the group response to the following works by Trollope: The Macdermotts of Ballycloran (his first novel, set in Ireland), He Knew He Was Right, The Claverings, Lady Anna, An Autobiography and Can You Forgive Her? Each of these discussions brought to light aspects which I had not considered during my solitary reads and, clearly, this is one of the benefits of group reading and exchange, whether live or on the Net.
Although the group preferred to work from the same editions of each book, this is usually not possible and, in the end, led to an examination of the various 19the century illustrators and what they added to the readers’ reactions to the books. the pictures are line drawings, suitable for black and white reproduction. Early examples tend toward caricature, while in later ones illustrators skillfully use lines to achieve shading and other effects. Some illustrations enhance the text, while others “disrupt” it.
Nevertheless, the sets of drawings I have seen contain memorable detailed expressions of the general images Trollope meant an imagined reader’s mental eye to visualize, and visualizations of subtle ideas Trollope meant his reader to reach for while reading his words. Trollope wrote that John Everett Millais’s illustrations impressed him so strongly that they led him to find and develop implications in his own stories of which he would not have been aware, and many of Millais’s pictures are exquisitely lovely.
Moody includes examples of successful illustrations and goes beyond the Internet discussions to “read” the illustrations for us, showing how the composition and lighting bring out the mood of the illustrated passage.