Thursday, July 20, 2017

Tonteria Toxica (Reply to Angel J. Colon)

(Status update: I earned $24.75 last week, $5 so far this week. There'd be more of the posts you readers apparently find more interesting, on this web site, if you'd done your bit:

https://www.patreon.com/user?u=4923804 )

Change.org is discriminating against the version of Google Chrome I'm using, so the comment below failed to show on this petition:

https://www.change.org/p/department-of-veteran-affairs-expand-comprehensive-caregiver-benefits-to-severely-disabled-veterans-of-all-generations

"
To Angel J. Colon:

Se dice que tantos veteranos jovenes necesitan ayuda con problemas mentales que no se puede soportar los mas viejos tambien. Tonteria. Es lo que Glenn Beck ha llamado un "Gambito del Washington Monument"--cuando los burocratas no reciben todo que desean, intentan destruir cualquier programa que la gente creen mas indispensable.

(We're told that so many young veterans need help with mental problems that (the V.A.) can't support both (them, and the older veterans with physical injuries, as discussed in the petition). Bosh. This is what Glenn Beck has called a "Washington Monument Ploy"--when bureaucrats don't get what they want, they propose to destroy whichever program the people think is most indispensable.)
"

Budget cuts need to be made...and contractual obligations to guarantee the most appropriate, efficient, and cheap way to provide for older veterans' retirement, which were a major reason why young men volunteered to fight in the twentieth century wars, are so not one of the things that need to be cut. Better the federal government should start by cutting out any federal department created after 1976, on the grounds that the states managed certain things adequately for two hundred years and can resume doing so.

The contents of Beck's book Broke are no longer Breaking News, but they've been fact-checked and found accurate...and the explanation of the Washington Monument Ploy is timeless. The Ploy probably worked before George Washington was born.



There's no Spanish edition of Broke but there's a Kindle edition; I suspect Bing or Google will translate it about as well as either translates Change.org petitions. (Some people gripe about those who comment on an English-language page in Spanish. I'm more likely to reply in Spanish-as-a-Second-Language...but seriously, Gentle Readers, these days a lot of Google-hosted sites, apparently including this one, open in whichever of several languages a reader's browser is set to use. People who type Spanish comments into English forums may be reading the forums in Spanish.)

Book Review: The Red Badge of Courage

Classic book has been on reading lists for over a hundred years...should this be called a Book Announcement rather than a Book Review? Here's a shiny new edition you can buy from Amazon. What I physically read, reviewed, and have already sold, was a nostalgic, battered discard from a school library...


Title: The Red Badge of Courage

Author: Stephen Crane

Date: 1894, 1951, many reprints since then

Publisher: D. Appleton & Company (1894), Random House (1951)

ISBN: none

Length: 267 pages

Quote: “So they were at last going to fight. On the morrow, perhaps, there would be a battle, and he would be in it.”

Stephen Crane, who claimed to believe that great writing should reflect the writer's life experience, is remembered for two novels that substantially distorted any life experience Crane could possibly have put into them: Maggie, the story of a woman of the sort Mrs. Crane exploited, and The Red Badge of Courage, the story of a soldier in a war that ended ten years before Crane was born. In practice Crane could almost have been said to adhere to Willa Cather's rule—writing the stories of people who interested the writer by being so different from the writer. He shared Cather's gift of visualizing other people's stories so vividly that they agreed his books captured what their stories had been like.

It was on the strength of his vivid visualization of the American Civil War that Crane was allowed to visit a battlefield as a journalist, and see for himself that he'd imagined how he'd react to combat conditions, quite well. Real Civil War veterans bought The Red Badge of Courage. They criticized it liberally—one particular line, according to the reprint I have, was for some time “the most notorious metaphor in American literature”--but they recommended it to students with equal liberality. This novel has been on high school reading lists for a hundred years.

Crane said that he'd set out to communicate an experience as it had been communicated to him, without philosophy, symbolism, moralism, or overt religion. There are no meditations on life and death. Readers have often felt that there ought to be some significance about the initials of Jim Conklin, the character whose death (from a wound in the side, yet) gives his younger friend Henry a vicarious experience that helps Henry overcome panic. Crane never said that there was.

I acquired my copy of The Red Badge of Courage because a school library discarded it. My copy shows wear, including students' doodling. Newer editions are available and are what online purchasers are likely to receive.

Should schools keep on buying new editions of The Red Badge of Courage? I think so, even though, as I recall, even bright, precocious middle school kids are likely to miss the point. At sixteen or eighteen, when teenagers are considering military service, thinking about the horrors of war is horribly appropriate. At ten or twelve, I remember understanding all the words in this novel but thinking of it as just another gross-out horror story. (Not that it's terribly explicit--considering the historical reality it reflects, the gross-outs have been toned down. We see Jim dying quickly; we don't have to watch people dying slowly from wounds that went septic, or dead men and animals left rotting on the field...) If literary admiration is the reaction teachers want from students, Cather might be a better choice.

However, I can now affirm that, if you were a teenybopper who was told to read The Red Badge of Courage in school, and all you learned or remember is that you “didn't like” it, this unrelentingly grown-up story is worth rereading as an adult. Crane's literary achievement, and the question of whether Henry's experience is anything like one you had or think you might have had, deserve some attention from people who've lived long enough to have some idea what this novel was about.


Psychologists have been blamed for trying to offer “death education” to students before nature had provided them any opportunity to face the reality of mortality. Efforts to march any group of children through any curriculum plan, in lockstep, tend to fail so I don't blame parents for objecting to “death education.” Nevertheless, the psychological fact is that many people's anxious reactions and cowardly conduct seem to be caused by an excessive fear of death, and the experience of observing what might be called a “good” death can be liberating. Awareness that life ends, that the choices people make often contribute to making the ends of their lives more or less unpleasant, can help us make the most of the time we have. The “badge of courage” can even show up as a mental attitude that, without being aggressive, commands respect and scares off attackers. Children are not necessarily capable of developing this awareness. Teenagers' reckless thrill-seeking may be a not very effective effort to develop it—courage is risking your life for a valid reason, not for a stupid one. Adults, nevertheless, need a “badge of courage.” I believe they can come from watching good people die bravely in peacetime, from old age, too.

Obviously this is not a Fair Trade Book. It is, however, a small enough book to fit into a package along with several Fair Trade Books, so feel free to scroll down and look for some; James McPherson's Ordeal by Fire , an historical study of the years before, during, and after the Civil War, would be a nice choice for background information on this story. If you don't insist on one specific edition that may be hard to find, The Red Badge of Courage can be purchased in support of this web site for $5 per book + $5 per package + $1 per online payment.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Book Review: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Title: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff


Author: Richard Carlson

Date: 1997

Publisher: Hyperion

ISBN: 0-7868-8185-2

Length: 249 pages

Quote: “A stranger...might cut in front of us in traffic...we convince ourselves that we are justified in our anger...Many of us might even tell someone else about the incident later on.”

In the foreword to this book, Carlson explains that he got the main idea from Wayne Dyer, who once wrote to him that there were “two rules for harmony: (1) don't sweat the small stuff, and (2) it's all small stuff.”

Right. Consider the source. 

This is a book in which another self-righteous type—a disciple of Wayne Dyer—tells you that, whatever you may feel angry or sad or worried about, it doesn't matter, it's all in your mind, nobody else is interested in it...I'm one of those quiet, mellow people who's never had a blood pressure problem and always known how to use deep breathing for pain control, and that line of talk raises my blood pressure. So I can't feel too optimistic about this book having great promise for those whose doctors have ordered them to grow some patience, like, yesterday, before they have strokes and die “old” at forty-five. Many people have read it and said it helped them; Amazon shows a whole page of follow-up volumes that have been bought and loved by Carlson's fans. I'd still hesitate to give Don't Sweat the Small Stuff to a hypertensive friend. These thoughts did not, after all, keep Carlson from succumbing to cardiovascular disease before he was even fifty years old.

Genes undoubtedly contributed to Carlson's looking so much older than coevals like Barack Obama and George Stephanopoulos, and Hollywood customs may have contributed to his looking so much older than a long list of other well-known people born in 1961 (here), but let's face it: that pudgy, saggy-faced geezer of 45 was obviously unable to avoid "sweating" some things no matter how many blow-off-your-worries books he'd written. So this review of his first and best known book doesn't have to be charitable. It needs to point out the most obvious shortcomings of the contents of the book. 

How do you discuss the concept of mellowing out with someone who isn't hypertensive in the first place, without irritating even that person? For starters you avoid phrases like “you will begin to create a more peaceful and loving you.” Urgh. I can stand “you will be cultivating the virtue of patience,” but I'm a Christian. Generally, when we want to encourage adults to change their behavior (or when we want children to have any idea what we want), it's a good idea to avoid characterizing, or judging, or describing the person. Focus on the target behavior.

Was Wayne Dyer, a popular author of the 1970s of whose work I remember most vividly a suggestion that people ought to be able to tell themselves to be sexually excited by having dental work done, stupid, hateful, obnoxious, a pervert, or a person who really deserved 32 root canals without an anesthetic? How do you know that Dyer is or isn't any of those things? Where do you draw the line between doing something that is stupid, hateful, or obnoxious, and being a stupid, hateful, obnoxious person...

There is a way out of this little intellectual whirlpool. It consists of four words: “I am not God.” Since I'm not God, I don't have access to all the information about all your past, present, and future thoughts, words, and deeds, and the reasons for them, and the influences behind them, that God has to take into account in order to judge God's mortal creatures. So I do not, in fact, know what you are. In advice from a family counsellor, as in a confrontation with a family member, all of the “be” words are killer be's, best not used in the same sentence with “you.”

Some total Type A's are in fact loving people, even if it's possible to identify the people they love by their hunted expressions. They don't need to “be more loving.” They are already “loving” in all the ways that phrase brings to their minds. If they need to change their behavior, whether by getting that blood pressure down so they can go on loving their loved ones, or by listening more attentively, or cultivating a milder manner of speaking, or touching more, or swearing less, or whatever...that's what can usefully be described. Active verbs and specific suggestions can help somebody. "Be" phrases merely fail to communicate.

Since Carlson does offer some specific suggestions for things Type A's can do that may help them sweat less (“Don't Interrupt Others,” “Once a Week Write a Heartfelt Letter,” “Tell At Least One Person Something You Like, Admire, or Appreciate About Them”), it's fair to say that this book offers some helpful advice to anyone seeking to reduce the level of stress in their life. Unfortunately, it sets readers up to reject the good advice with lines like “a more peaceful and loving you”...

What is “a more [desirable quality] you,” anyway? It's not a classic sneaky vap; it doesn't rely on intonation to distinguish an unmistakably hostile form from a benign form. (“If you really wanted to go out tonight, you should've told me so before I cooked,” is benign even though it might appear in a quarrel; “If you really wanted to go out tonight, you wouldn't have spent the money on [whatever],” is
hostile.) “A more [X] you” is rare. Women of a certain age probably encountered it first in the Girl Scout manual with the chapter heading “A More Attractive You.” Ouch. That presupposition, “You're not as attractive as you want to be, or as you might be”? What a thing to tell junior high school girls--though true in most cases. No wonder that, when the Girl Scouts divided their junior high school members into separate “Cadette” troops and gave them that manual, girls dropped out of Scouts in droves. No wonder readers who, whatever their flaws, knew they already were “loving,” made fun of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.

Well, laughing is another way to rebalance our hormones in a mellower direction, Gentle Readers. May I suggest laughing at Don't Sweat the Small Stuff? Laugh out loud. “Create a more peaceful and loving you”? Hahaha! Hold the back cover up and laugh in Carlson's face. Laughing, even if it starts in a mean and snarky way, can actually help people reduce pain and control blood pressure. Then read on: “Remind yourself that when you die your 'in basket' won't be empty.” Most of us need occasional reminders. There are valid reasons to buy Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. Some of these thoughts can help.

The extent to which our thoughts really control the level of stress we suffer has been a matter of some debate. For some people, using angry energy in a nonviolent way helps build cardiovascular resistance and fight cardiovascular disease; for some people, the feeling of anger can become a physical addiction that increases hypertension, overall dissatisfaction, felt levels of anger about various provocations, and the chance that these people will abuse others, often family members who can't fight back. When Carlson and I (and all those movie stars at the IMDB site) were growing up, psychologists were encouraging people to get in touch with our anger, "Shout! Let it all out: These are the things I could do without!" Now there's more of a perception that, even if that was a healthy approach for some people (especially women) to take, to "rehearse" expressing our anger to adults rather than dumping it on children, that was just too dangerous for the anger addicts, so we should all focus on just releasing the emotional feeling of anger. For those interested in releasing the feeling through meditation, which really does work for some people, there are books on that specific subject. This web site recommends:


There's also valid cause for concern that too much focus on the feeling of anger may distract people from addressing the things that God gave us angry energy in order to help us change, because those things are doing harm to other people as well as us...I'm not saying that sweat, a flushed face, or clenched teeth are in any way necessary to address societal problems such as crime, but I am saying that anything that actually prevents or reduces the incidence of crime does crime victims more good than merely trying to feel something other than anger.

Fix Facts First Shirt


It can be worth spending the time to sort out how much of the stress we feel has anything to do with stuff that's not actually small, that does harm to us and others, and how much of it has more to do with merely feeling physically below par. Cardiovascular disease kills people who become angry because they feel below par. They get tired easily, their resistance to infections is low, they don't get enough sleep, they don't digest food efficiently, their hormones are unbalanced, they have addictions (including that addiction to the adrenalin rush of angry energy that some men get), and as a result of all these things they're grumpy, miserable to be around, capable of yelling at you because you left the window closed (or open) and then yelling at you, five minutes later, because you opened (or closed) it for their comfort. These people can benefit from working through their emotional feelings and thought processes, but they need more than that; they also need, at the bare minimum, a diet, exercise, and meditation regimen, and sometimes medication, supervised by a medical doctor as well as a psychotherapist or family counsellor.

So, in conclusion: if Richard Carlson did take the time to tell his children he loved them and write letters of appreciation to service people, that was good, and undoubtedly made his last years less unpleasant for everyone...but if he'd paid more attention to the advice of someone like John McDougall or Stephen Sinatra , he might be as fit and healthy, today, as most people our age are.

If you are hypertensive, there is nevertheless a stage, as you begin to fix the facts of your hypertension, at which the psychological and social exercises discussed in Don't Sweat the Small Stuff can be useful. So go ahead and buy the book, why not? It's a small, thin book and would fit into a package with Anger and Lower Your Blood Pressure and even this web site's trademark T-shirt from Zazzle. For that you'd pay $5 per book (yes, each of the three books is only $5, and the other two are Fair Trade Books!), $20 for the shirt, $5 for the package, and $1 per online payment.

(Will three books and a T-shirt really reverse cardiovascular disease? The answer is yes...for some people, if those people use the information in time. This does not, however, imply that three books and a T-shirt can take the place of a doctor.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Book Review: My Three Years with Eisenhower

Title: My Three Years with Eisenhower


Author: Harry C. Butcher

Date: 1946

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

ISBN: none

Length: 876 pages with 34-page index

Quote: “I have seen you several times in pictures and movies with General Eisenhower. You're always away back in the background. Why didn't you get up front?”

“In the background” as aide to the future President, Captain Butcher was keeping a “secret” diary (dictated to a secretary and redacted for publication in U.S. newspapers), participating in what he reports as the general tendency among the soldiers in that “World War” to cheer for all the other Allied leaders and victories while talking as if their own leader was basically winning the whole war. From his perspective, Roosevelt and Churchill and then-ally Stalin were merely supporters in Eisenhower's war.

One of the more endearing bits of a rather dry story is that Butcher was aware of this at the time. He knew in 1942 that his reports on his superordinate's role might be used as a political campaign document some day. So did the future President Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, and sometimes they disagreed about what to report. In the Army, Eisenhower used “Army language,” but in reports he preferred to have it edited out.

One anecdote (pages 716-717) shows Butcher covering his chief's back side a little too well. In the 1940s drinking alcohol was legal even in the United States, but it was still considered disreputable (as, in my part of the U.S., it still is). Fans had been known to send General Eisenhower wine or whisky. Believing that he needed to be fully alert at all times, the general had sent the bottles o'cheer to hospitals for the wounded. One day in 1944, however, a congressional delegation had brought the general various comforts from home—American food treats including sausage and hominy grits, and a bottle of bourbon. Butcher told a reporter to say, “General Eisenhower sent the whisky to a near-by field hospital.” Eisenhower was “displeased”: “[E]very member of the Military Affairs Committee would...say 'the fellow is a **** liar.'” Politicians themselves, they'd surely understand, Butcher soothed; in any case, “What did happen to the whisky?” The Congressmen drank it, Eisenhower said.

I chortled...for, I think, the only time, while reading this book. What Butcher's diary is, and was meant to be, was History. Military History. Every bit as detached as it was in your school history book, only in more detail. Intended for reference not for pleasure, although those who really Liked Ike would be expected to skim through it.

Well...this fat little book tells me more than its first owner probably expected it to. As mentioned earlier I know a lady who had been buying books to display in a furniture store, decided there were too many books, and demanded that I take them off her hands or she'd send them to the landfill. My Three Years with Eisenhower was one of the books she'd bought, obviously, for its authentic early twentieth century look. It hadn't been perfectly preserved—it's foxed, a few pages crinkled from damp, the binding giving that crumbly feeling that warned me to lay it flat on a table and turn its pages with care. I felt no qualms about creasing or even dog-earing pages...until I came to the first few uncut pages, in the second or so hundred pages. Commercial publishers have, for a long time, been printing several pages of a book on a single big sheet of paper—standard-sized books, typically, consist of 16 two-sided pages that started out as one big page—and into the twentieth century it was common practice to leave it to the first reader of the book to separate the pages with a knife as s/he read. This proved that the book was really new. (It was also common practice to burn all the books of anyone who'd been positively diagnosed with a contagious disease. Very few if any serious diseases have been spread by handling books, but many people preferred to be safe rather than sorry.) And My Three Years with Eisenhower had lasted from 1946 to 2017 with about half a dozen pages uncut. I am the very first person ever to read the copy on the desk where I'm typing this.

Let's just say that, after cutting the pages, I became more mindful about creasing them. The book was not in “new” condition but I handled it even more gently.

If you set out to read this book, and were not able to finish it during an entire presidential administration, you'd not be the first. You already know the plot: Algeria, Italy, Germany, the White House. Details you might want to use in an historical study are listed in the index, provided that you know which people and places you're looking for. (You may or may not have been interested in knowing that General Eisenhower managed to keep both dogs and cats, overseas; Butcher introduces two of each and explains how three of the animals got their names.)

There's something ineffably icky, for me, about official military history. It's dry, detached—as it has to be. Military leaders live in comfortable houses, throughout a modern war, and don't even have to see an actual combat zone. Eisenhower thought “Telegraph Cottage” needed a dog, and named the dog Telek; Butcher thought “Telek” sounded like a brand name for a toothbrush; Eisenhower cheerfully observed that the dog's tail looked a bit like a toothbrush...Yonder are men shot through their eyes. The heavens veil their face from Man's intolerable race, drifts through my mind. No, I don't prefer the memoirs or reports of those actually wading through the very special war mud that was compounded of ordinary dirt, garbage and bodywastes, plus the liquid effluvia from human corpses. I would prefer that humans figured out that there have to be better ways to resolve disputes, and limit population, than war.

Read an honest war story and say that making a third baby is less a “perversion” than any other sexual act of which humans are capable, if you can. Military history is written by people sitting at a distance sufficient that they can go on giving other things higher priority than ending the practice (and the felt need) of war. Wars are won by people capable of forgiving their leaders for bickering about the best name to give a puppy while those people, themselves, are using a friend's body as a shield. It is better to win wars than to lose wars, and we respect and thank the people who fought the wars...but when will we evolve an acceptance of better ways to thin our population down?


Sorry. Here is a war story, not necessarily dishonest for its distance from what your grandfather probably remembered. Buy it if it's useful to you. I've left a few pages of the index uncut, and I promise I didn't cough on the book. It's not a Fair Trade Book and will cost $5 per book, $5 per package, and $1 per online payment; two copies of this book might or might not fit into one package but several smaller books would fit in alongside one copy.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Book Review: Problems of American Democracy

Title: Problems of American Democracy


(Reprints are available, and may be cheaper, but this is the book I physically read and reviewed.)

Author: Henry Reed Burch (and S. Howard Patterson)

Date: 1922, 1928

ISBN: none

Length: 575 pages, plus reprint of the U.S. Constitution and index

Quote: “[T]he aim has been to provide the student with typical material for a general introductory course in problems of democracy, which not only stresses certain fundamental characteristics of our own civilization, but preserves at the same time a proper balance between the political, the economic, and the social factors in American life.”

After studying several books like this gem of the “Progressive” thought of the 1920s, Erica Carle concluded that sociology as taught in American high schools was not a science at all, but a religion—or pseudo-religion. How else could schools justify using this collection of opinions as if it were a scientific study of facts? Burch and Patterson do present occasional, usually isolated, facts but they're more concerned with sharing their faith that “Man” can perfect his collective self by collective, or collectivist, efforts.

In the 1920s it was still possible to bloviate at length about “Man,” theoretically meaning humankind (and in practice, if anything real, meaning the (always male) leaders of your own party). Children were given books about The Story of Man (kind). Burch and Patterson commendably avoid the tendency to blather about “Man” but they make up for it whenever they consider the female half of humankind, as on pages 392-394: “Women as well as children became workers under the new factory system. The economic causes of both problems are much the same and their effects quite similar...For physical reasons the efficiency of woman is sometimes not so high as that of man...[I]t is necessary to protect her [“Woman”] in the exercise of this new freedom. Therefore laws have been passed to regulate the industries into which she may enter.”

Discussions of “the negro” and “the Indian” (meaning the Native American; Burch and Patterson said very little about India) are also not to be missed, but if you're looking for quotes that ought to be really embarrassing to any latter-day Prog, go directly to the discussion of “Defectives in Society” on pages 500-517. By the standards of their day the authors were being both progressive and liberal in saying that people with physical disabilities (“defects”) deserved education and employment that would allow them to make some profit on what they could do. Other people who fantasized about a perfect human society fantasized that disabilities could be bred out or, as in the Nazional Sozialistische schema, people with disabilities could be used up in scientific experiments. However, at no point anywhere in this book do the authors miss a chance, after any passing mention of “defective” intelligence, to insist that all “defective” people need to be “segregated” and prevented from breeding their “defective” genes back into the pool. Heavenforbidandfend anyone else should give birth to a child like Helen Keller or Albert Einstein.

The ignorance about genetic conditions in the 1920s was truly awesome. Burch and Patterson were so fully cocooned in this ignorance that they display only a smidgen of it, themselves. Little did they know that nobody has truly healthy genes—that when an individual's genes don't produce any obvious disease effects all by themselves, they'll still produce undesirable or lethal effects in combination with just about anyone the individual might choose to be the other parent of his or her children. Physical attraction turns out to be one way a majority of young people, given the choice, avoid the most lethal combinations of DNA, but it's not infallible, and it now appears that nature did not intend that humankind ever succeed in eliminating “bad” genes from the pool. 


Some of the deadliest genetic conditions are produced when individuals inherit two “good” genes for resistance to diseases that are otherwise fatal. Two survivors of a typhoid epidemic who have children together are likely to have children with cystic fibrosis; two survivors of a malaria epidemic are likely to have children with sickle cell anemia; two people with high resistance to tuberculosis are likely to have children with Tay-Sachs Disease, and so on. However, Burch and Patterson were still at the naïve, idealistic stage where people imagined that if those blessed with good health, high I.Q. scores, and admirable characters would only marry each other, they'd give birth to “the Super-Man,” rather than to babies with genetic diseases.

The Roaring Twenties were, as Jonah Goldberg has reminded us, a period when Hitler still seemed like a failure at life in general but Stalin and Mussolini were truly Bright Young Things, much admired by many “progressive” Americans. Their bold totalitarian programs promised to produce one version or another of the Paradise on Earth that many left-wing Christians still believe Jesus commanded us to build.

Hence the problematic use of a title like Problems of American Democracy. “Problems” are to be solved; the title was not Shortcomings of American Democracy or What's Wrong with American Democracy. But neither was it Advantages of American Democracy Over European Monarchy and Dictatorship, which might have been the title of a more useful book for high school students.
  
Well...my copy of Problems of American Democracy was handed down through another family, and came into my hands as a specimen of “old schoolbooks as items of décor.” It has a nice old-schoolbook look, with the name of the boy its owner had a crush on scribbled on the flyleaves and “Amo Tui” written in small letters in among the text, and lightly frayed but clean covers, darkened but fungus-free pages. It's most likely to appeal to those looking for a décor item, a deep, cool shade of greenish-blackish-grey.

A pity, that is. For anyone who takes the time to read it, Problems of American Democracy is quite an informative read. 


It has, in fact, been reprinted as a "classic," and is even available as an "e-book," so copies aren't hard to find unless you insist on a really old book in excellent condition. If you're willing to take a reprint, we can offer this book for $10 per copy + $5 per package (two to four books of this size fit into one package) + $1 per online payment.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Book Review: How to Survive the Loss of a Love

Title: How to Survive the Loss of a Love


Author: Melba Colgrove with Harold Bloomfield and Peter McWilliams

Date: 1976, 1991

Publisher: Bantam

ISBN: 0-553-07760-0

Length: 212 pages

Illustrations: a few vintage woodcuts

Quote: “It's hard to look back on any gain in life that does not have a loss attached to it.”

How to Survive the Loss of a Love is not exactly a Christian book. It does discuss "spiritual" matters, and has been marketed as a Christian book, so it belongs in the Sunday Book Review category. Although this web site reviews religious books from a Christian perspective, this one was written with the hope of being inclusive for readers of any faith or none.

In this book, the authors attempt to guide everybody through every conceivable kind of “loss,” specifically including bereavement, divorce, unemployment, violent crimes, changes of address, illness, graduation, “success (the loss of striving),” midlife, retirement, lawsuits, and waiting for test results—all of this, using the end of a romantic infatuation as the paradigm. Alternate pages reiterate in prose that the only way out of the grief process is through it, and display free-verse “poems” about McWilliams' failed romance in the early 1970s.

It does take courage for a grown man publicly to claim the “poems” he wrote about a love affair that ended fifteen or twenty years ago, so first this web site salutes McWilliams for that.

Now, does anyone really need this book? Does anyone not already know that the only way out of the grief process is through it? I think this book may help some people but I'd like, for the record, to say some more about some of the ways I've seen it (and the kind of advice it contains) fail people.

First, even the authors fell for a popular error of the 1990s. Ah yes, some people think they'd like to identify their grief (or, more dangerously, someone else's grief) as “continu[ing] longer than normal” and requiring medication, and the authors blithely assure us that “Antidepressants, taken as prescribed by a psychiatrist, are non-addictive and effective. If you wonder whether you need antidepressant medication, contact a competent psychiatrist for an evaluation.”

And the helpful pharmaceutical industry has supplied that psychiatrist with a checklist of symptoms that definitely will not include the one I'd consider indispensable, “Has the patient honestly tried every other alternative over a period of no less than ten years, and/or is the patient already receiving treatment and/or hospice care?” That checklist may not include, in so many words, “Have you ever been lonely? Have you ever been blue? Have you ever loved someone who didn't love you? Are you still alive? If so, you need antidepressants immediately,” but it won't be a great deal more subtle than that; it will most definitely not be written to yield results like “You're not depressed, you're a teenager,” and “You're not depressed, you're bereaved,” and “You're not depressed, you're lactose-intolerant,” and “You're depressed all right, and you need to watch your moods as a symptom while seeking a diagnosis of the physical disease that's causing your depression, so if you can't say no to all drugs including alcohol it'd be a good idea to check into a drug treatment facility,” and, for maybe five percent of all patients, “You're depressed, which is understandable since you have an incurable disease, and an antidepressant may alleviate your distress during the hospice process.”

Admittedly this approach to depression might allow some people to suffer from gloomy moods longer, but it would restore the incidence of murders of total strangers by females back to the norm of virtually zero, where it was before today's popular antidepressant drugs came onto the market.

Because many English-speaking people use the word “depressed” to describe any noticeably “low” mood however transient, many people will say that everybody gets depressed. Psychiatrists used to be required to limit the discussion of “clinical depression” to cases where the patient insists that s/he has felt intensely unhappy, consistently, for at least six months, in the absence of real-world bereavement or other major losses or of treatable physical diseases. The pharmaceutical industry has pushed very hard to create a cultural atmosphere in which random acquaintances feel free to tell anyone who seems calmer than they are all about the wonderful pills they can start popping to “get rid of that depression” and be as manic as TV commercial actors are required to appear to be. Those of us who prefer to live in a world where most strangers aren't likely to murder us (and where we're not likely to feel a need to murder strangers, ourselves) need to push back, reminding everyone that TV commercial actors spend whole days splicing recordings to get the perkiest look and sound from a hundred different “takes,” and end up merely boring and annoying us anyway.

Meanwhile, with its wonderful 1990s discovery that “antidepressants are non-addictive” (disproven by now), How to Survive received a boost and reprinting...not specifically credited to any pharmaceutical company. Despite the shiny new binding it's still the same consciously “cornball” book that expresses where baby-boomers' heads generally tended to be at (yes, that was the phrase) in the 1970s.

I'm a bit dismayed to see that my 1991 edition of How to Survive was distributed as a Christian book, years after Dave Hunt had guided Christians to repudiate The Seduction of Christianity by the various New Age feel-good cults that were typically formed by and for ex-Christians. At their best the New Age groups wanted to blend a few aspects of Christian practice that still felt warm'n'fuzzy with a sort of warmer'n'fuzzier watered-down Buddhism, so they could make peace with their parents without actually having to give up a few cherished sins. At their worst they were psychological personality cults. If How to Survive hadn't been mistaken for a Christian book I'd have no qualms about sharing it with Christians as a general-audience book, but since that mistake has been made...

How to Survive is the nicer sort of New Age book. It tries—sincerely, no doubt—to stay accessible to Christians but it advises readers to adopt that bland, Buddhist-passivist attitude toward sin that is, in fact, contrary to Christian teaching...not just blanket one-way “forgiveness” (meaning emotional release), but an effort to dispense with all moral judgments whatsoever. Many Christians are still trying to practice this (per)version of our faith, because they've never taken a long step back and looked at the results trying to embrace all behaviors impartially has had in the Buddhist countries. No, not the absence of totalitarian governments, and not the absence of material wealth; the absence of a firm sense of right and wrong is what leads to slavery and thuggery and all kinds of abuse.

Individual Christians who have physical “anger addictions” can benefit from recusing themselves from passing moral judgments. Society as a whole cannot afford to do this. Most people are not anger addicts and need to take a firmer, not softer, attitude toward immoral behavior, beginning with our own. Instead of trying (futilely, if we have healthy moral senses) to achieve warm'n'fuzzy moods by “forgiving ourselves for judging ourselves,” we need to recognize what we did wrong, to whom, and ask those people what we have to do to put things right.

If you understand forgiveness (as I do) to mean a process that begins when we sincerely want to make amends for behavior we sincerely intend not to repeat because we realize that it's done harm to other people, then one of the losses you have to accept, at various times in your life, is that some people are going to die before they can forgive us or we can forgive them. Some of the emotions we release, without that process of forgiveness, just in order to get on with our own lives, may include frustration (that feels like anger) with the people who died before we wanted to live without them.

I have found it useful to make a very clear, firm distinction between releasing emotions (the one-way process that other people want us to be able to rush through in a few hours, and usually we can) and forgiveness (always at least a two-party process that can only ever begin with the person seeking to be forgiven). It is harmful to others, as well as ourselves, to babble about forgiving a child molester who is still actively abusing people who are still children. It is wrong to try to feel good about having “forgiven” a swindler who is still cheating other people out of money. The emotional mood we feel about these things normally passes at a rate that corresponds fairly exactly to the rate at which we're able to recover from the physical, material damage that's been done to us. Thus, when we

FIX FACTS FIRST, FEELINGS FOLLOW.

One of the facts that may or may not be fixable is whether or not the person who did us wrong has repented, so that we can forgive him or her. If that hasn't happened, it's probably not a high priority. By fixing the more direct damage done, we can look forward to reaching an emotional position from which we can release our emotions about the fact that that person hasn't received our forgiveness in this life and may thereby be disqualified from receiving God's forgiveness in the next.

(Another fact, which may in some cases be “fixed” by thinking about the matter more clearly, is that the person may not have done us wrong...by ending or never beginning the sort of premarital sexual relationship that the “poems” in How to Survive suggest, for instance, the person may have spared us from the misery of premature parenthood, thereby doing us a good turn, as we can clearly see once we've readjusted.)

It may be a source of tremendous frustration and anxiety and pain to those who've trained themselves to alleviate their own emotions by trying to “help someone else” (yes, that's one of the generally better suggestions in How to Survive)...but we really can't help someone feel better just by focussing on the person's feelings. We can offer ourselves, if we so choose, as emotional crutches. We can listen-more-than-talk about whatever the person wants to talk about during the (hours, not quarter-hours) it takes a normal emotional mood to subside. That will help the person if, meanwhile, the facts of the person's life are improving or being improved. Otherwise, it won't; the person will feel just as bad, or worse, about the same thing another day. So if we want to do more than just encourage the person to go on and on feeling worse and worse until s/he becomes desperate enough to make the facts of his/her situation even worse than that, we can sit still and chatter and blather about the person's feelings. If we want to be the one who actually helps, we're going to have to exercise body parts other than our mouths. Don't even bother uttering words like “Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled.” Get up and feed the person, if you find someone whose main complaint is not having enough to eat.

There are some good suggestions in How to Survive for those of us who are co-surviving someone else's loss, e.g. the end of a Teen Romance. By reading the book along with this person we may get ideas for things that actually keep the emotional pain from expanding into, say, a physical illness. In order to get the most use from this book it may be good to make it a rule not to volunteer any thoughts about the person's emotional feelings. (Listen if the person wants to talk through a mood swing, but don't talk about the mood; let it pass.) Do offer to do things with or for the person: cook, clean, walk, drive, do chores and errands. (Bereaved people may be brainfogged by their overwhelming loss for months, and need you to do things for them. Adolescents with heartache are feeling as if they'd lost something they'd had, although they've not, and need you to do things with them, keeping them in motion, until the hormones subside and they can go to sleep.) Let them be the judges of how relevant, irrelevant, cheering, annoying, etc., McWilliams' poems are. You're outside of their emotions; that means you can monitor, and when possible improve, the facts.

To Melody Beattie's expressed dismay, a lot of baby-boomers chose to interpret Co-Dependent No More as telling them they must never do anything practical to help other people. “If I drive for someone who's crying, cook for someone who's not eating, or heavenforbidandfend give or lend someone MONEY (expression of horror), the person might become dependent on me! No no no, all I can do is tell people to get professional help to deal with their feelings!” People who never depend on each other (as crutches, yes) never bond with each other. If you do not, in fact, want to be a close friend, you don't have to be one; you wouldn't be one in any case. You might hand someone money while expressing a mental attitude that would guarantee that the person might continue to use you, but would never ever like, trust, or respect you, for the rest of your lives. If your friend is in financial distress, whether you prefer to be “Lady Bountiful, That Stupid Sucker” or “Scrooge McWorthless” may be the only choice you're able to make—if you're really all that attached to having more money. If you do choose to be a friend worth having, you should know that (1) most people naturally prefer to be independent (many of the people exploiting Lady Bountiful, That Stupid Sucker, turned down several offers before they realized that she likes to be exploited), and (2) the time to haul out Co-Dependent No More is when you see evidence that someone is excessively dependent on you, at which point you can always say, “I offered to drive for you while you were crying every day, but that doesn't mean I like driving,” or “I appreciate the part-time work you did while I was able to pay for it, but with the medical bills I have now I can't afford a lawn service,” or whatever may apply.

Which brings me to a final observation: If you read a few cubic yards of the popular psychology-philosophy-religious thought of the 1970s, and you used what you found good in it and threw away the rest, such that as an adult you live with inner peace and self-respect and integrity and all of those things that some hoped would displace spirituality, and you also have spirituality...oh wow, are some of the self-appointed amateur psychotherapists of this world ever going to hate you. Would you rather be co-dependent and depressive and addictive and blah blah blah, and have friends, or be liberated from all the emotional dreck and be your own, and only, trusted friend? (It's up to you, but here I stand to testify: the latter is more fun.)


Readers of the book of Job in the Bible have always agreed that, of all Job's miseries, his four longwinded friends had to have been the most likely to turn him against God. The book of Job is generally thought to be a legend from far back in the mists of prehistoric time...and it's been hard for friends' reactions to alleviate, rather than aggravate, any source of pain anybody has ever had, ever since. Sharing How to Survive with a grief-stricken friend can have either effect. I've discussed some common pitfalls into which people my age have fallen since 1976; that may not prevent you and your friends from discovering new ones. Then again, it may actually help you, your friend, and your friendship survive that first doom-guaranteed Teen Romance...or even the loss of a job or a relative.

Melba Cosgrove is alive and active in cyberspace, so this is a Fair Trade Book. When you send $5 per copy of this book, plus $5 per package (at least six and possibly eight copies of this book would fit in one $5 package), via U.S. postal order to P.O. Box 322, or add $1 per online payment for a total of $11 via Paypal to the address you get by e-mailing salolianigodagewi @ yahoo, this web site will send $1 to Cosgrove or a charity of her choice. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Book Review: Avalon

Happy Bastille Day to all who celebrate it...

Title: Avalon


Author: Anya Seton

Date: 1965

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

ISBN: none

Length: 440 pages

Quote: “I had one of my dreams about you, Merewyn...You were far, far away in a place of dark high mountains and ice. There was a man--”

Readers' Digest used to brag that authors themselves couldn't spot where they'd made the cuts in novels they “condensed.”

Avalon was one novel where the cuts are easy to spot...and ruinous. I read the RD Condensed Book version and wondered how it was possible for Ernest Thompson-Seton to have a daughter who wrote such dreary fiction. Following the usual “condensing” policy of cutting out the descriptions and reflections, by the 1970s when it was fairly well accepted that other Europeans had come to North America before Columbus, I first read Avalon as a sappier than usual romance where the couple neither get together nor get over each other. Apparently the RD editor wanted to read them as Star-Crossed Lovers.

Adult historical perspective helps so much. In 1965, Anya Seton was presenting new historical information in the form of a novel about two hypothetical Europeans who might have come to North America before Columbus. Having one of those characters be a woman was important to her readership. Having the characters know each other as friends allowed Seton to get them to North America on different ships, from different countries. Having the woman marry another man allowed Seton to get the woman out of her parents' home or a convent. The purpose of Avalon is to imagine what it was like for those hypothetical Europeans to discover a new continent, and to do that, although we need a clear mental image of the countries they were willing to leave behind when they set sail, we also need the bits about their spirituality, the mutual attraction that might have become an unhappy marriage but is content to be a lifelong friendship, their relationships with other people...There are imperfections in Seton's narrative style, turns of phrase that are neither polished nor colloquial and should have been changed, but if you're the kind of reader who just wants to know who killed and/or bedded whom, Avalon is not for you. It reads much better at Seton's pace than at the RD pace.

The story does begin with a boy meeting a girl. Both of them are innocent children at the time. The boy is Romieux de Provence, a minor prince who doesn't want to spend his life fighting for status and has been advised, in that case, to live in a more peaceful, rural country, such as England. The girl is Merewyn, whose PTSD poster girl of a mother was married to an alleged descendant of King Arthur but was also raped by a Viking. Two of the first things the French prince learns when he arrives in Cornwall, before he reaches England, are (1) that people don't want to pronounce his real name and prefer to confuse him with an obscure Cornish Saint Rumon, and (2) that although Merewyn has been brought up as an adoptive heir to the Cornish legends of King Arthur, her hair is dark auburn because she's really the daughter of Ketil Redbeard, a Viking chief.

In England, King Edgar wants to show respect and make peace with the Celts, so he accepts Merewyn as an orphaned princess. The boy who has by now accepted “Rumon” as his name is in fictional-fact Edgar's first cousin once removed, so he's welcome in Edgar's court too. Archbishop Dunstan and King Edgar wouldn't mind bringing them up as part of the family, but then there's Queen Alfrida, the nastiest character in the book. To the facts about her,which aren't nice, Seton seems to have added a fair bit of Clytemnestra and a smidgen of Jezebel. The two hapless teenagers aren't allowed to grow up in peace as wards of the King.

This allows Rumon to travel with one of the Irish expeditions that may or may not ever have reached North America, Merewyn to travel with Erik the Red, and her son to travel with Leif Erikson.

When the convent to which Merewyn has been sent is raided by Vikings, Merewyn really strikes it lucky; Ketil Redbeard is still a sufficiently powerful chief that the Norse people accept Merewyn as an heiress, and she marries well, “falls in love,” and has children—and still gets to travel to impossible, legendary places, as Rumon does, though not at the same time he does.

What some readers will love, and others will find disgusting, are the historical sidelines and subplots. The wackiest details are accepted historical facts; the Saxon kings and queens could be as bizarre as the Plantagenets or the Tudors. At this period in history, when one of the little princes whines “He p-p-painted my new horse green!”, it's not even surprising that he's talking about a living animal. The royal family live like some sort of “Lifestyles of the Poor and Ignorant” parody that makes Al Capp's Dogpatch seem posh, and people who really are poor and ignorant live, as Seton shows a few of them doing, more like degenerate apes than like even degenerate humans...and in real life they probably did.

Seton also seems to have taken an interest in the way the psychological conditions of interest in her own time were seen in medieval culture; in addition to Merewyn's mother's post-traumatic stress disorder there's an anorexic, an assortment of homosexuals, a few religious maniacs, and various kinds and degrees of learning and speech disorders. Seton does not, however, really dig into the question every beginning student of medieval European history always asks, about the incidence of sociopathic and/or megalomaniac conditions among feudal royal families.

She's also interested in the psychology of her main characters. Rumon seems to grow into his obscure Celtic nickname; he's Highly Sensory-Perceptive, mystical, an individualist, and he likes travelling and exploring; he thinks he wants children but he doesn't seem to want the burdens of fatherhood; he belongs in Ireland—he'd still have been “a rum'un” in the slang of a much later England. Merewyn is practical, levelheaded, intelligent but hardly an intellectual, religious but not mystical; she wants a home and a family; once she outgrows hating the whole north of Europe, she enjoys being a Norsewoman—she'd be merely and merrily “a winner” in a much later North America. They have enough in common that at times, different times for him than for her, they think they're “in love” and want to marry each other, and they do care deeply about each other. Each of them finds Romantic Love, separately. In the full-length book Seton has time to convince the reader that that's the way some couples are. In real life some of them do live long enough to reach an age where they can be happy together, but the ones who marry young regret it.

Seton's audience, mostly female, restless students and bored housewives, were presumed to want (“need”) a story about Merewyn's self-development. Feudal England gave Seton a fertile soil in which to cultivate her fictional character. As a grieving fourteen-year-old, Merewyn has a sort of brittle, callow self-esteem built on the charitable fiction that she's the daughter of a long-dead man called Uther, thought to be descended from King Arthur—not at all like the hateful barbarian “Northmen.”As a young woman she has a possible if rare opportunity to be reconciled with her real father. Toward the end of her life, when she returns to England, she has a chance to choose whether to try to sustain a false social position based on a false genealogy, or take her chances at a respectable, slightly lower, level of feudal society based on her real identity. (Does mentioning this aspect of the story spoil the plot? Shouldn't; no points for guessing which choice she'll make, but I've said nothing about her adventures.) Seton's audience apparently responded as expected to the story of Merewyn's search for real self-esteem. Avalon sold well.

And it still apparently does. This book has remained in print more than twenty-five years longer than its author remained alive, which means it's more than a mere "great romance," as one web site calls it. (A lot of enthusiastic readers haven't fully understood the book; even the Wikipedia article about it, as of July 12, 2017, misidentified the fictional Prince Rumon or Romieux with the legendary, but real, Saint Rumon. There may have been a real Romieux de Provence--online genealogy sites aren't sure--but nothing solid is known about him. Seton makes it clear that her Prince Rumon was so nicknamed in honor of the saint, who had lived and died long ago.) It's not Real History, and it's not a Real Classic of English Literature, but it's a substantial enough novel that a "notes" version has been marketed to students! 

Multiple editions with different jackets are available; if you buy it here, since it's no longer a Fair Trade Book, you'll need to specify a hardcover edition if you insist on one. Currently either hardcover or paperback editions can be purchased here for $5 per book, $5 per package (four paperbacks of this size, or at least two hardcover copies, should fit into a package), plus $1 per online payment. (That is, if sending a U.S. postal money order to Boxholder, P.O. Box 322, Gate City, Virginia, 24251-0322, you'd make it out for $10 and pay the surcharge directly to the post office; if sending a Paypal payment to the address you get by e-mailing salolianigodagewi @ yahoo, you'd send $11 since Paypal collects its surcharge from the payee.) Feel free to add either more of Seton's well researched, substantial novels with a romantic tingle about them, or other books that might include Fair Trade Books by living authors, to the package.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review: Daughters of Texas

Title: Daughters of Texas


Author: Annette Broadrick

Date: 2000

Publisher: Silhouette/Harlequin

ISBN: 0-373-20170-2

Length: 600 pages

Quote: “We'll treat it like a business arrangement...say one year...At the end of that time we'll review the situation, decide if we want to continue the partnership.”

In three “complete novels,” meaning romance novels, Broadrick introduces an unusual American family, the O'Briens. Each of the three orphan sisters is an adult, they have a little property and some money, and they're not especially religious, yet each is willing to enter a temporary contract marriage without having first “fallen in love.” Megan marries a rich young man she never used to like for his money, Mollie marries the newly widowed father of a child she wants to continue baby-sitting, and Maribeth marries the boy who was always her and her boyfriend's sidekick when they were teenagers.

And, because this is on the Lost Planet of Romance, they all live happily ever after. The relationships play out differently from the formula novels Silhouette cranked out before merging with Harlequin, but they're all fairly explicitly about sex, with minimal details about the other things the characters supposedly want, Megan's managing the ranch or Chris's investigating charges against his father or whatever else.

There's not even a strong sense of place. There's an occasional windmill, pickup truck, or Stetson hat on the scene, but it wouldn't take major rewriting for a jaded romance author to replace these props and transfer the stories to Bombay. I caught myself wondering whether Broadrick had actually rewritten romances that originated in Bombay, or some place where “love develops after the wedding” is a more popular romance plot.

I don't usually review Silhouette Romances; it's this alien plot device that prompts me to review Daughters of Texas.

Some feminists have claimed that the function of “romance media” is to distract women from improving themselves and their lives by encouraging them to dream about ideal husbands. Being unconvinced that romances work that way, I think of this genre of fiction as more of a marital aid, a way for tired middle-aged wives to remember the feeling of being young and hormone-ridden. Whether this type of novel is more likely to help young people's “felt needs” resolve themselves in dreams, making it easier for young people to practice abstinence, or aggravate the “feeling of needs” and tempt young people to commit fornication, is probably an individual question older people should not try to answer for the young.

There are also those who feel that romance novels sabotage marriages by encouraging unrealistic expectations. Again it's an individual question, but I personally don't think it should be very hard for real live men to make themselves more pleasing than Heathcliff or Rhett Butler...much less Broadrick's character Travis, who plunges blindly into his proposal of temporary-marriage-for-money before Megan has had time to see that he's outgrown the bratty behavior of their childhood.

Daughters of Texas, however, meets an actual need. Most North Americans do not expect to “fall in love” after marriage. Many of us, male and female, ask questions that become tedious to friends from countries where arranged marriages are standard. “What's it like to, how could you possibly have,” etc., etc. This set of stories provides some possible answers to those questions. Megan, Mollie, and Maribeth are adults who contract their own marriages rather than teenagers whose parents arrange marriages for them. Nevertheless some of the expectations that go with contractual marriages serve people well, and Broadrick shows us how a responsible adult attitude toward even an arranged marriage can sometimes work better than an unrealistic faith that hormonal “love” will solve all problems.

Nobody but themselves has pushed Megan, Mollie, or Maribeth to say “I do” while they're uncertain that they do, will, or can. Still, the fact of their uncertainty has forced them to work out some things in their own minds: whether they'll have the pleasure of “falling in love” with their husbands depends on them. Fortunately they're not Saudi women who would be socially and financially ruined if their contractual marriages didn't lead to “falling in love.” Broadrick fails to write them as if they were real American women who could have satisfactory lives without sex or marriage, but she does spell out that they belong to that type.

The sort of women who read romances might benefit from more attention to the self-contained personalities, dedication to work, and self-liberation from emotional moods, that allow these Daughters of Texas to make their unusual marriages work. Silhouette doesn't do that kind of thing. This publisher never encouraged novelists to waste time illustrating how real people think and talk to each other. Just get'em into bed and make sure to remind the reader how the characters' pulse rates rise when they see each other, used to be the rule—Silhouette used to have different brands, with precise rules determining on which pages the couples kissed, quarrelled, caressed, made up, and made babies, so the weary middle-aged wife who had time to read only a few pages before her weary husband came home would know where to open the book to activate the emotional mood she wanted. Daughters of Texas doesn't follow the rules of the brand novels I studied in the 1980s, when I considered writing one, but the cardinal rule of getting the characters into bed and keeping their minds on sex thereafter hasn't changed. Megan “had fallen in love with Travis” without realizing it, readers have to be told—we don't see her listening when he talks, training him to give the ideal back rub, installing tissue so it unrolls in the direction he expects it to unroll, or any of the other little things Broadrick expects us to remember that people do when they “fall in love.”


Perhaps it's more important that she reminds us that people have to do those things, whether they felt that they were “in love” before the wedding or not, if they want to be “in love” afterward. Hormone levels rise and fall. Sexual acts seem impossibly thrilling, moderately pleasant, or just plain impossible, depending on hormone levels. Love, the discipline not the emotion, can grow even when the hormones are gone. I don't think Broadrick's characters are very well done (Silhouette romance characters never were; the publisher actually advised writers that "readers want them to be larger than life") but I think, in a sketchy way, Broadrick has at least suggested characters who are likely to grow past the mood swing of “romance” to the discipline of love. I suspect the challenge of giving American characters romances that follow foreign patterns of timing has helped her do this.

Annette Broadrick is still alive, so this is a Fair Trade Book: Buy it here and you not only get three novels for the price of one ($5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment) but you make a $1 payment per order to Broadrick or a charity of her choice. (At least two books this size would fit into a package; if you conserve packaging material, and trips to the post office for me, by ordering multiple books at the same time you pay only one $5 shipping fee, and also ensure that I'll personally verify that each book reached me in good condition rather than just forwarding it from Amazon to you, as I've been known to do.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Book Review: Francis in All His Glory

Title: Francis in All His Glory



Author: Burke Wilkinson

Date: 1972

Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux

ISBN: 0-374-32457-3

Length: 219 pages plus index, bibliography, chronology, and genealogy

Illustrations: black-and-white photos of portraits

Quote: “Although he loved the clang of battle and danger’s bright face, he almost never killed coldly or cruelly. To his contemporaries his knightly prowess and his chivalry may have seemed a little old-fashioned.”

Did the reference to “glory” make you expect this to be a book about Francis of Assisi? (Perhaps absurdly, it had that effect on me.) Sorry. It’s about François or Francis I, born 1494, crowned King of France in 1515, died 1547; considered worthy of, if not preeminent among, a peer-group that included Henry VIII of England, Maximilian of Germany, and Ferdinand of Spain; admired by the artistic set that included Leonardo, Michelangelo, Erasmus, Titian, Clouet, Cellini, Machiavelli, Marot, Rabelais...and his sister, Marguerite, whose Heptameron is still in circulation today.

U.S. schools don’t teach even our own history with anything near the attention it deserves, still less the history of the countries our ancestors left. Many allegedly educated Americans don’t recognize Francis’ name or picture and have no idea why French people remembered 1515 as a great year for France. Burke Wilkinson set out to fill that academic gap, describing the achievements that allowed Francis to be described as a “Good King.”

Well...as Kings of France went, anyway.Europe was nominally Christian, and the more enlightened monarchs (including Francis) were even beginning to learn how to read and write for themselves, but Europe was still a mess of feuding tribes who expected their leaders to be warriors first, strategists second, and thinkers or diplomats or even decent human beings only if they had energy left over. Francis, as portrayed, seems to have been an excellent fit for that job description. He found time to write some poems; the ones he let Clement Marot whip into shape were considered reasonably good. He paid enough attention to his religious instructors to carry out their wishes and banish Calvin to Geneva. He respected the women in his life—notably his mother, the one who negotiated his release from prison—but did nothing to improve the disgraceful status of women under French laws (or customs, which Francis failed to correct even by example). He admired the art of architecture, and designed a fabulous 400-room “hunting lodge,” Chambord. Mostly he was remembered for battles, not all of which he even won; during a civil war against some of the French provincial aristocrats Francis spent some time in prison in Italy, but he was considered a fair fighter and generous winner.

Were Francis and Henry friends? Wilkinson presents them more as colleagues who found it advantageous to behave like friends. All the European royalty called each other “cousin” if not “brother” or “sister,” as in fact most of them were. That Wilkinson found reports that Francis and Henry, in particular, envied each other’s looks... well, look at their portraits for yourself. (Wilkinson also shares some pictures of their allegedly beautiful female relatives, which serve to emphasize the point that, before modern medical science, “handsome” and “beautiful” often meant merely “not obviously very ill—yet.”) Despite a nominal alliance sealed by the betrothal of their younger relatives, Wilkinson reports that, after having spent some time with Francis, Henry muttered something about how, if he had a subject like that, that subject “would not long keep his head on his shoulders.” The context of this remark is not given. It may have been merely aesthetic. Francis’s head certainly did nothing to improve any view, though Francis deserves some kudos for allowing so many artists and artisans to agree so emphatically that he had a strange face. Henry merely looked like a heart attack waiting to happen. What Francis’s eyes were “saying,” the world probably prefers not to know.

Wilkinson mentions, but rejects, the claim that Leonardo actually died in Francis’s arms. They were close. Wilkinson thinks what they did was talk, especially “about the creation of a fabulous castle...Chambord’s turrets and pinnacles bear a striking resemblance to the sketches in Leonardo’s notebooks.” Leonardo da Vinci wrote, drew, and said quite a lot about a lot of things. Whether he was homosexual, asexual, even heterosexual but more discreet about it than most of his contemporaries, or simply postsexual, was not one of those things. (His will was outrageously generous to a younger man, but that may merely indicate that the younger man helped draw up the will.) Francis was heterosexual. The society in which they lived was not so homophobic that a man needed to be ashamed of lifting a sick patient “in his arms,” and at some other time during Leonardo’s illness Francis might have done that, but on the day Leonardo died, Wilkinson concludes, the two seem to have been in different places.

There is some debate about exactly what caused Francis to “age” and die at such early ages. Sixteenth-century medicine was the immediate cause. He apparently seemed old at forty, and died, after a heroic intervention of purging and bleeding, at fifty-one. Wilkinson mentions theories that Francis had either a sexually transmitted disease, or cancer. Wilkinson tersely tells us that what he had read about Francis’s symptoms supported the cancer theory. For those who really want to know, there’s a long bilingual bibliography at the back of the book.

Francis in All His Glory could have been a much longer book than it is. It was written to be accessible to European history buffs of all ages. The presupposition beneath Wilkinson’s terse and tasteful writing is that either you already remember what all the famous historical figures in this book were famous for, or you’ll want to read the other books that were already available (in English) about them. When Wilkinson mentions Anne of Brittany, Pope Leo, Diane de Poitiers, Andrea Doria, he expects those names to mean something to you that, if you’re a typical U.S. teenager, they don’t yet mean. This is probably why I got my copy so cheap from a school library that had given up trying to persuade fifteen-year-olds to read it. This is regrettable, Teen Readers, because many of the characters in Francis I’s biography have interesting biographies of their own.

If you like a good reality-based story with royalty and chivalry in it, this is that kind of story. You’ll enjoy it most, though, if you either have done or are willing to do all the additional reading about all those other characters. If you know the songs about Bayard and Anne and La Palice, this book will sing to you...“Vous plait-il d’ouir l’air du fameux La Palis-ce? Il pourra vous rejouir, pourvu qu’il vous divertis-se...”

Though Wilkinson no longer has any use for a dollar, this web site has to offer Francis in All His Glory on our usual terms: $5 per book, $5 per package (at least four books of this size would fit into a package), $1 per online payment. You could get a better price directly from Amazon, but then again, if you bought those other three books, some of which could be Fair Trade Books, the saving on shipping might even out prices. It's unfortunate that local servers don't allow this web site to make Paypal buttons available to most readers, including local readers, but the security advantages may make it a good thing after all that you need to send a paper U.S. postal order for $10 to Boxholder, P.O. Box 322, Gate City, Virginia, 24251-0322, or make a Paypal payment of $11 to the e-mail address you get by e-mailing salolianigodagewi @ yahoo.