Thursday, November 30, 2017

Correspondents' Choice Books for November

Glenn Garvin recommended...actually a video adaptation of Alias Grace, discussed earlier this year on this web site.

You saw it here. You can get it here. Don't fall behind the next fad! Netflix is selling the videos; the link below exists to help you give this web site a small (less than US$1) commission on the book.

Jim Geraghty recommends a "reform" that makes's sort of what this web site was getting at when we quoted the Bible story about "Not a thread nor a shoe latchet." Is that story (Genesis 14) no longer familiar? It used to of the battle stories boys were supposed to like. The cities of the plain were at war, five kings against four kings. Lot and his family were taken prisoner. Abram, later called Abraham, and his hired men rode in to the rescue, not only of Lot and his family, but of the wicked King of Sodom. The King of Sodom offered Abram money, whatever he wanted from the spoils of war, but Abram didn't want his prophetic/preaching/teaching ministry compromised so he said he wanted "Not a thread nor a shoe latchet, lest you should say 'I have made Abram rich'."

Here in the point of Virginia, we've been told for a long time that everybody else in North America has more money than we have (which is no longer true, if it ever was). For many the measure of a Congressman is how much federal funding he can draw into various public projects, and of course the price of all that funding is that we have to support legislation we neither want nor need. It would be extremely empowering if we started saying, "Not a thread nor a shoe latchet." Or, "Instead of letting outsiders manage 'services for' us, why aren't we encouraging our own young people to provide those services?" Sucking money in from outside of our town, county, or corner of the State is all very well, but there is also something to be said for laying down the vacuum hose now and then and allowing our own money to grow.

Wendy Welch recommends a novel about the high human cost of our National Parks. Some correspondents have, in the past, expressed surprise that parks, lakes, and parkways they know were pried away from people who lived on that land...Grandma Bonnie Peters lived in a lot of places in her eighty-some years, but the town where she put in most of her school years, had friends, and felt "at home" was turned into a lake during her twelfth grade year.

Wendy Welch has a bookstore. Why would a book blog discuss someone else's real bookstore? Aren't all booksellers in competition with each other? That was before Amazon. Many bookstores have their own affiliate accounts to support, but you can always ask them to use a link you see here.

Everyone who went to school in Virginia used to be required to study the biography and collected letters of Robert E. Lee, who was of course a Real Hero and a Perfect Virginia Gentleman, though some of us down here in the point of Virginia aren't as thrilled with his determination to protect Northern Virginia (at our ancestors' expense) as people in Alexandria...well, it was a long time ago, anyway. This web site has recommended General Lee's letters before, too. General Grant, with professional help from a Real Writer, published a long series of memoirs...I'm not claiming to have read those, but I'll get around to it one of these days. Meanwhile, the publisher is proud to announce brisk online sales in a one-volume biography that makes the case that General Grant was at least an interesting character, not just the short guy in the famous picture. A hero? Well, as this web site has noted, General Lee not only shook his hand but endorsed his political campaign. I'd read a single volume about Hiram Ulysses, a.k.a. Ulysses Simpson, Grant.

Tom Hanks (via Goodreads) recommends this history of one of the most useful gadgets ever invented. If you still own one, cherish it; we'll be refurbishing and using them when the Internet's gone. (Keep slowing down my e-mail, Yahoo. I made more money on typewriters.)

Fair disclosure: I have read Jung Chang's Wild Swans, so it was nice to find A.J. Jacobs recommending it too. Family story told as novel, lots of fun facts about China including descriptions of wheat-based Chinese food, long but thoroughly enjoyable read.

Why will you (if you don't already) like these three volumes of memoirs? Because Durrell was one of the world's most charismatic zookeepers, because he was good at painting word pictures, or because his stories are hilarious? I own the first two volumes; I'd like to read the third.

I see one thing not to like about Michael Finkel's book right away. The publisher calls the character (reportedly a real man) a "true hermit." He wasn't. He stole what he needed from other people. You can be a hermit, in spiritual retreat from the busy world, or you can be a thief; not both. So, I'll link to a book by a real hermit (a Jewish-born "Anglican Solitary" who worked urban and foreign missions when younger and became a hermit around retirement age) below. This story of a smart, quirky thief also appeals to me.

Maria Tatar recommends Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, another book I enjoyed and don't mind recommending again. Amazon is showing a new edition with bikini-clad females on the cover. There are beach scenes in the story, but I think the book is better represented by this cover.

"Old" is your health, or that of the relative you're asking. I had a school friend who'd inherited a disaster gene and was "old," relative to her life expectancy, and made an Elder of her hometown church, at twenty. Most of my relatives below age 80 will allow that 80 is "old," but those over 90 have disagreed (sometimes with themselves) whether "old" starts at 90 or at 100. Here's a 40-year-old sprout with the nerve to write about being "older," apparently in real life, yet, as distinct from cyberspace...well, the publisher says it's funny; I'm sure it is.

Samantha Irby's blog title contains a word this blog's contract bans, but Goodreads readers rated her book high. That cat picture is worth sharing in any case...I love kittens like that. I back off and let'em think they're being as nasty as they wanna be. In a day or two most of them are purring and cuddling.

Science fiction writers who want to send characters through space must read Scott Kelly's memoir, describing what a long space flight was really like. I think we'd better focus on ending population growth on Earth rather than count on people being able to live in space...

Anne Lamott...I don't need to introduce her to many people! If you missed the first couple times I said it: if you like the way I write, you'll love the way Anne Lamott writes. New book by her? Run don't walk.

Some people who buy books from me in real life ask for more "Westerns." Some of the guys at the National Review can relate. They recommend this collection. The picture's not showing up very clearly for's The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard.

This link should give NRO-guys their commission.

C.S. Lewis took a crack at the classic problem of reconciling the two ways Christians have traditionally understood pain: as a natural effect of various natural causes, or as an experience that may sometimes have spiritual value. Some translations of his book used his metaphor, "Pain can become God's megaphone," for their titles. Contrary to what some correspondents may think, I agree that pain can become God's megaphone, though I suspect I would have disagreed with Lewis about the probability either that people will learn anything from pain more "spiritual" than things like "Handling red-hot objects really messes up the skin," or, consequently, that God has any particular use for the pain most people feel.

Lewis was suspiciously compassionate about homosexuality when it was still a crime in England, not just because one of his long-term friends was "gay," can read what he confessed to that friend, here. I think his pre-Christian attitudes toward corporal punishment, which were literally pounded into him by his society, are a separate branch on the same tree with his willingness to believe that pain was God's megaphone. That he was physically abused and bullied into accepting physical abuse as a teaching method doesn't invalidate his belief that people learn from pain; it does suggest that he was more optimistic about the frequency of people's learning anything good from pain than the facts may justify.

Someone Out There wants to see more in praise of the late, great Terry Pratchett. The Discworld novels aren't classic fantasies, aren't science fiction....some of them are simple, kid-friendly, funny stories that adults happen to enjoy too, and some of them are very grown-up (never "adult" in the crasser sense, though) and thought-provoking. All of them that I've read are extremely funny, though full of dare-to-be-trendy anti-Christian wisecracks. Different printings have different jacket designs and even this late volume, Volume 33, has been reprinted in half a dozen different forms.

+Ruth Cox (and Valentino) recommend the classic Beautiful Joe...let's see how this web site can handle that Amazon link...

The dog wasn't as handsome as Valentino; that's the point, or one of them.

A correspondent mentions Dorothy Sayers' Strong Poison, the one of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels where Wimsey defends the suspect he marries a few volumes later. I think I've read, and think I own, all the Wimsey novels. They've been highly recommended by lovers of detective stories for a long time; they even appeal to people who, like me, don't particularly care for detective stories. In contrast to some other series' detectives and suspects that are presented strictly as playing pieces in the game of solving the mystery, Sayers put so much loving (Christian loving, although her characters aren't religious) care into developing Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane as characters that some critics have suggested they were the children she wished she'd had.

I was too young to appreciate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn during his lifetime. I'm not, now. Jim Geraghty shared this link to a book of his that I've not read yet:

Mudpie recommends Sandi Ward's Astonishing Thing, chick-lit from the cat's point of view:

Click here to buy it from Mudpie's Human.

Now, about hermits...down at the end of the alphabet comes Anna Zilboorg, Virginia's best known knitter. Well, she wasn't born a Virginian any more than she was born a knitter. She wasn't born a Christian, either, and after becoming a Christian she had other ministries, involving an urban group house and travel overseas, before "retiring" to a solitary life in southwestern Virginia. She became a sort of heroine of mine after telling Alexis Xenakis that, when brats in a supermarket whispered that she "looks like a witch," she growled "I am a witch!"--while receiving a stipend from the Anglican church as a solitary artist/writer. She also told Xenakis, in the same interview, that while the serious desert hermits of the early church lived alone in retreat from worldly society, they were never barred from receiving or even becoming occasional visitors, so being a solitary artist was not incompatible with displaying her gorgeous yarns and knits and even autographing her books at Stitches Fair. Being a hermit means living alone, praying a lot, working a lot, not socializing much; it does not mean turning against people or stealing their things. In fact, contacts in her sponsoring church tell me, in order to be recognized as a "solitary" Religious Person you have to be doing some sort of solitary scholarly or creative work that churchgoers respect as a ministry. Real hermits don't have to punch a time clock or chatter on coffee breaks, they can communicate with their customers and co-workers by mail, but they Are Doing Real Jobs. Not only are they forbidden to steal; the Christian kind aren't even allowed to beg.

That's her newest book, the one that's on my Wish List, but while we're here, why not mention the book of hers that has more than paid for itself. These hats go in and out of fashion. They were all originally knitted in vivid Eastern European color combinations, which look good next to high-contrast, black-haired, fair-skinned Eastern European faces. If you don't want strangers to eye your hat and smile, there's no rule against knitting plainer versions in black and white, or in team colors to wear at a game. I've made some plain-and-fancy versions--instead of red, blue, purple, and gold, say, knit one in black merino, white mohair, pale grey silk, and silver lurex. Whether knitted in two colors or can-I-work-in-twenty-different-scraps, they sell. (And yes, people in Washington wear those pentagons.)

Morgan Griffith on U.N. Green Climate Fund

From U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith (R-VA-9):

No Surprise Here – Green Climate Fund is a Boondoggle
Sometimes problems catch you by surprise, and sometimes they can be anticipated well in advance. Recent setbacks for the global climate agenda fall into the latter category.
Earlier this month, I alerted you that global carbon emissions continue to rise worldwide due to increased pollution from China, India, and other emerging economies. This increase occurred despite a reduction in the U.S. carbon footprint. Further, it happened two years after the Paris climate accord, which set goals to decrease the world’s carbon emissions. Time has vindicated what was evident when the accord was concluded: shackling the U.S. economy would not stop increases in carbon pollution.
Instead of killing jobs in America, we would be better off finding new, cleaner ways to use our carbon assets. China, India, and other countries may talk green but will always default to get jobs and wealth for their people.
In the same vein, but predating the Paris agreement, is the United Nations’ (U.N.) Green Climate Fund. Former President Obama committed the United States to an initial $3 billion contribution, of which $1 billion has already been transferred. Congress never appropriated money for this purpose, so the Obama Administration’s commitment was an overreach. I have previously said that the fund itself is a bad deal for the United States. We spend billions already on climate change-related issues. Technology and innovation will have the answers we are seeking, and are where we should spend our money. By pledging to support the Green Climate Fund, the Obama Administration committed billions of dollars to an international body with an ill-defined mission and no clear accountability.
I am not surprised to learn that the Green Climate Fund has not done what its supporters claimed it would do. I am surprised to read this in the New York Times.
The Times recently ran an article, “U.N. Climate Projects, Aimed at the Poorest, Raise Red Flags,” that centered on the travails of the tiny Pacific island nation of Kiribati. As a developing country, Kiribati exemplifies what the Green Climate Fund was supposedly meant to benefit. But seven years after world leaders pledged to help countries like Kiribati, it has yet to see any project funding.
What is more, much of the money that has been granted so far has gone to recipients who have not provided clear plans for how they will spend it. For example, $265 million went to a Luxembourg-based investment fund that says it will finance projects in about 30 countries, but the Times notes this fund has provided “no explicit plan to disclose what those projects would be.” Other entities that have received grants are already awash in cash. Overall, under one-tenth of funding has been earmarked for projects run by the countries the Green Climate Fund is meant to aid.
When President Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement, he cited the Green Climate Fund as an example of a program that doesn’t work. We now know that the Green Climate Fund does not even benefit the countries it was supposed to help.

More, with specific reference to foreign countries, at .

Tim Kaine Just Doesn't Get It

This web site hopes that U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been completely chaste and monogamous all his life...because any older man with whom anybody disagrees seems to be attracting accusations of long-past sexual misconduct, these days, and is the position taken in this e-mail ever disagreeable. How bitterly the Senator clings to that individual mandate to participate in insurance gambling schemes! Anybody'd think he owned stock in one of those insurance companies that are ruining the U.S. medical care system...

From Senator Kaine:

This week, the Senate will vote on a Republican tax bill that will do serious harm to Virginia families and businesses. I’ll be voting no, but we need your voices now more than ever to stop this bill from becoming law.
Tax reform should prioritize the middle class and small businesses, but this bill is all about giving a massive tax cut to the those at the very top and large companies. Independent analyses has also shown that it will raise taxes on millions of middle class families, add $1.5 trillion to the deficit and would lead to 13 million fewer Americans having health insurance by repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. This isn’t how we should be doing tax reform, and the process by which this bill is being jammed through the Senate is disrespectful to the interests of the American public.
This tax reform bill will have a lasting impact on the American economy and every single person in Virginia. It’s important we get this right and not do irreparable harm to millions of families and small businesses who don’t deserve to be stuck with higher taxes for years to come.
" [signature graphic]

Book Review: Beany Malone

Title: Beany Malone

(Yes, all the original editions of books in this series have tended to fade strangely. The copy I physically own is less badly faded than the picture appears on this browser, but it's faded.)

Author: Lenora Mattingly Weber

Date: 1948

Publisher: Crowell

ISBN: none

Length: 186 pages

Quote: "But then all Saturdays in the Malone house were a hectic, happy hullabaloo."

In the twelve-novel series about Beany Malone's teen years, this first volume is the last one in which all four Malone children are full-time residents in the Malone house. Elizabeth, the eldest sister, had married and moved out in the preliminary novel about middle sister Mary Fred; now she's back, with the baby, while her husband is deployed overseas. Mary Fred is still only trying to get into the sorority house where she'll live for the rest of the series. Johnny and Beany are still in high school, and in addition to their toddler nephew they've been living with two evacuee children from London and an old--positively frail and senile--friend of their father's. Their mother is dead, and their father travels a good deal...and in 1948 leaving these kids on their own to bring up even younger children seems to have been accepted as neither abusive nor even eccentric.

Lenora Mattingly Weber wrote the twelve Beany Malone books, plus the preliminary one about Mary Fred and a follow-up about a child Beany tries to adopt, a couple of horse stories, a pioneer romance, and a spin-off series about the Belford sisters who baby-sat Beany's children in the 1960s. In none of these stories were the characters especially spiritual or introspective; Weber wrote about "normal," shallow, fun-loving kids unburdened by any special talents. In each story Weber tried to explore what being a good Catholic could mean to that sort of teenager. The central character always faced some sort of kid-sized spiritual conflict--take prezzies from their manipulative grandmother, or make do with what they have? hang out with a clique of just four girls and four boys, or with as many friends and relatives as possible?--and usually, as in Beany Malone, this conflict was framed in terms of selfishness versus generosity.

That's what I've always liked, and always disliked, about this author and her work--ever since I "met the Malones" at age ten. The characters are solid, lifelong Christians...but they're only ever allowed to be a numb, half-baked, extrovert sort of Christians. Beany, who shared a patron saint with Kathleen Lenora Weber (to whom Beany Malone was dedicated), seems to have been Weber's favorite character--featured in the most books, and most vividly realized. The stories about her are tidily written bits of fiction, but Beany comes across as a real girl, probably based on some combination of Lenora Mattingly and Kathleen Lenora Weber. Lacking a solid, positive, introvert-type conscience, groping her way through life according to her feelings about personal relationships, Beany is doomed to spend her whole life torn between generous impulses and the feeling that once again she's been too generous.

When the evacuee children rush off toward home with hardly a word of farewell to their host family, leaving Beany to wash melted homemade ice cream down the drain, it's not the first time Beany thinks that her life would be simpler if she could just care less about people. Her whole family's lives would be simpler if they weren't so warmhearted. There's Elizabeth pining for her husband, Mary Fred torn between loyalty to her boyfriend and loyalty to the "campus traditions" the sorority uphold, Johnny obsessed with the idea of getting their father's old friend's memoirs written up before old Emerson becomes unable even to talk, their father "sticking his neck out" for controversial legislation he believes will save lives...and Beany with a crush on a boy in Mary Fred's class who doesn't seem to think much of Mary Fred or Johnny. If only the whole Malone family could stop caring so much, Beany thinks, maybe she'd get over her hopeless about a harebrained idea only an extrovert could entertain!

Beany's best school friend has just moved away. That's all we'll learn about the friend for another five books. Beany is (like a surprising number of young extroverts) not popular at school; a plain-looking little thing who really does seem to fade into crowds if she doesn't shove her way to the fore, she seems to talk to a few other girls at school, but not enough to remember their names. The girl Beany wants for her new best friend is, as her old friend turns out to be, positively shy. Kay, whose parents are divorced, believes that her mother will move to yet another neighborhood if Kay has a friend. Weber never will let Beany consider the possibility that she's attracted to people whose brains have developed the parts that are missing from Beany's own brain, nor will she make it clear whether Beany's two close friends are meant to be genuine introverts. Beany perceives Kay's vain, selfish, immature mother as a positive role model of protecting herself and her daughter from getting emotionally involved with other people, even when that means that, among other things, when Kay feels sorry for a stray dog, Beany ends up keeping the dog--and puppies--in Beany's own little bedroom.

All the different Malones' wishes and problems come together in an incredibly tidy plot. Beany Malone lives in a fictional world more like ours than like the Lost Planet of Nice, but this was still considered a children's book, and everybody--even Kay's rather dreadful mother--gets a more or less happy ending.

There's always an element of Teen Romance in each volume of this series and its spin-offs. I should admit that, although and perhaps because Weber tried to de-emphasize sex in these books, the romance always used to strike me as the flimsiest subplot in each book. We're told that Beany has a crush on this older boy, Norbett, because he played the hero in a school drama club production. How stupid is that? Around grade nine I figured out what's really going on. Beany has a physical attraction to Norbett; she doesn't want to admit anything as icky as a physical attraction to a teenage boy--well, that made sense to me--so she tells herself it's just this idealistic admiration of a stage act that obviously has nothing at all to do with the boy's real personality, which will be, throughout the series, rebarbative. Beany really wants to be as close to Norbett as possible; since he's not a pedophile, and she's not that much of a fool, being close means having pleasant warm feelings about getting him onto speaking terms with her brother. O-kay. But all the way through the series I kept hoping that Beany would own up to what she was doing and tell herself to stop projecting all that idiotic idealism onto every hormone surge she felt, and Beany kept trying to convince herself, and readers, that her hormone surges had something to do with love.

Teenaged girls do not, in real life, have to convince themselves that they love or even like every boy to whom they have a hormone reaction. If blessed with adult friends who accept that hormone surges happen, teenaged girls can accept realities like, "I felt physically attracted to a boy in a convenience store in Knoxville. I'll probably never see him again, even if I ever am in Knoxville again, and if I do he'll probably be so different by then I won't recognize him." Or, as in Beany Malone, "That surly, grumpy, sort of funny-looking boy in my sister's class, whom my sister never liked, has some merely superficial, physical appeal to me." In 1948, apparently, some adults still wanted to believe that teenaged girls were spiritually chaste and wouldn't have that kind of reaction...which meant believing that girls like Beany were stupid enough to cast a born loser like Norbett, in their minds, as a noble rescuing hero.

Despite these major defects the Beany Malone books did appeal to me; they appealed to lots of Christian teenagers. If Beany had gone to my school, I remember thinking, how superior to her I'd feel myself and my school friends to be...but then again, the average protagonist of the "girls' books" and "boys' books" cranked out for escape reading, in the pre-television years, was not easily imagined as a three-dimensional living creature at all. Beany Malone had plenty of faults, some known to her author and some not--but she might have gone to my school. In some ways she's a very well written character.

And so I've kept at least one copy of every one of the Beany Malone books, as an adult. I've read a few volumes of criticism in which some splenetic Christian-phobic writer said, more or less, "These books are so demeaning to teenaged girls," meaning, "These books are so overtly about the kind of spiritual life an extrovert brought up in a traditional Christian faith has, in real life...that a girl who reads them might overlook the admitted imperfections in Beany's personality and actually feel respectful of traditional Catholic practices, such as, horrors, confession and repentance."

These books sold well and are only slowly becoming collectors' items, but...still...$10 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment, and if you want to collect this series being able to get them shipped in packages of four for $5 per package may result in a substantial saving.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Status Update: Surviving Thanksgiving Weekend...or Did We?

Well...I survived Thanksgiving weekend much better than I expected. I cooked and ate several things that didn't make me sick. I wrote the recipe book manuscript, and sold a hand-knitted blanket, and got some house and garden chores done as well. I'm not back to that normal, regular digestion that allows eighty-year-old celiacs to feel ever so much better than they felt at twenty-five, yet, but I have some basis for believing I may get there again. And when we achieve a glyphosate-free world, I may not only live as long as Great-Aunt Oily McFilthy (age 99) but enjoy doing that.

Grandma Bonnie Peters, however, has been too ill to provide an update. (As regular readers know, she's not my grandmother. She chose "Grandma" as a screen name back when her grandchildren had four living grandparents. She is now the last grandparent they have left, and she's 82 years old.)

Others...let's just say, to preserve everyone's privacy, that it's been a very mixed Thanksgiving for this web site.

Although it's been electronically transferred, I've yet to receive the actual cash payment for either of those e-books; my income for this week, so far, is still $50. If your income for this week was more than that, you need to support this web site, using one of these options:

* Use the "donate" button in the Greeting post if it works for you (it should be visible at , always, and it has worked for some e-friends, but it does not work in my part of the world). (This is the site processing the e-book projects.) 

* Or mail a U.S. postal money order to Boxholder, P.O. Box 322, Gate City, Virginia, 24251-0322.

That reiterated...did I think of anything "good" to post over the weekend? I thought of several things to post as soon as they're funded. Your payment can unlock any of the following:

1. Thanksgiving: why do some people react so "negatively" to Positive Thinking?

2. That scam don't have to wait for the Turkish workers' story in English; it's already live at with the heading "JusticeForBravoWorkers." My own breaking story, in which the scammer exposes its own scamminess, awaits payment.

3. The explosion of allegations of sexual misconduct that allegedly happened twenty or more years ago, against men who look, at best, extremely unlikely to be dangerous now. This post is bipartisan: I have no more reason to "defend" Roy Moore than John Conyers, Garrison Keillor than Bill O'Reilly, and in fact I'm not "defending" them. If any of these guys is currently molesting children, by all means, lock him up and recycle the key. I'm raising the question, though, whether the dogpiles on these old men are merely a cover-up for more recent offenses (and offenders), or a more sinister effort to stretch the rule of "When it's her word against his, we should take her word" to the breaking point and thus protect all rapists and child molesters.

4. Another Vietnam veteran story (other than my Significant Other and relatives, that is). Family care for young veterans with most of their roads before them, or for older ones to whom We The People have a contractual obligation--why would anyone even suggest that we have to pick one?

5. Your call: pick a topic and (within reason) I'll write about it. (Due to contractual obligations, this does not include advocating for legalization of things that are currently illegal or deregulation of things that are heavily regulated, such as drugs or weapons).

Amazon book link? A correspondent celebrates the "bestseller" status of recently reissued...

Book Review: Webster's Spanish-English Dictionary

Title: Webster's Spanish-English Dictionary

(Review a dictionary? Why not? This web site posted an announcement or "review" of an Italian dictionary; here's the announcement or "review" of a Spanish dictionary I'm currently offering for sale in real life.)

Author: none identified

Date: 2008

Publisher: Merriam-Webster

ISBN: 1-40378-430-2

Length: 216 pages

Quote: "This Spanish-English dictionary has been edited with an eye to keeping the vocabulary as concise as possible and yet covering the most essential words in everyday use."

That's what you will and won't like. This dictionary is for English-speaking students in the first or second year of reading Spanish as a second language. (It could work in reverse, for Spanish-speaking people in the first or second year of using English as a second language, but it's designed primarily for English-speakers.)

(Note, also, that the dictionary I physically have for sale isn't even shown on Amazon now. What you see above appears to be a revised edition of what I have. Mine has a purple cover.)

No grammar information is given. For some obscure and arbitrary reason a decision was made to show the plural forms of all nouns, which are almost completely regular and predictable, but not the verb forms, a few of which are completely unpredictable. It's not standard practice for dictionaries to list each verb form as a separate word, especially in languages like Spanish where verb forms are agglutinative and can encapsulate complete sentences...but it would be useful to the beginning student who might try to look up se que and find se translated as "(to) oneself" but not se as "(I) know." Spanish verbs are truly wonderful things. They have an internal logic; once that logic sinks into your brain and becomes intuitive you have to admire the precise shades of meaning that are possible with Spanish verb forms, and the occasional whimsical leap by which "I know" appears as se rather than sabo, and "they went" is fueron rather than ieron, and so on. Spanish verbs, and their counterparts in French and all the other languages that abound in verb forms, have traditionally been felt to deserve a whole book all by themselves. The student should be mindful that this is because languages that are lavish with verb forms are fun. Really. If you're not trying to find a meaning for fueron in a hurry.

And there are a lot of everyday words, in Spanish and in English, that even the elementary school students for whom this dictionary seems to be designed are likely to use in casual conversation, that aren't in this dictionary. "Apple," "orange," and "banana" are listed; "tangerine" was dropped from the English list, although it appears as the translation for mandarina in the Spanish list; "blueberry" made the English list, although arandano doesn't get an entry on the Spanish list; "persimmon" isn't mentioned on either side, nor are nopal or tuna.

If you're looking for a useful word like arandano and not finding it, how frustrating is it to see "area nf area" and "aroma nm aroma, scent" on the page? Spanish-English dictionaries probably do need to list words like area and aroma that are basically the same in both languages because, of course, some words that look the same in Spanish and English are not (pan means the actual bread, not the pan the bread was baked in) and some are the same only sometimes (pasta means pasta, but it also means paste). Anyway it's useful to note that although el rather than la is the equivalent to "the" usually used with nouns that begin with A, aroma is grammatically masculine despite its A's at both ends, and area is not.

Webster's is a useful little book, coat-pocket-size. You will eventually outgrow it but, as with those Little Golden Book field guides my generation used as children, you don't need to be in any great hurry to discard it merely because it's small, short, and simple. Quite a few words that are neither obscure nor everyday, like (opening the book at random) hebilla, a buckle, or helecho, a fern, are in this dictionary. There's probably a fancy "app" that will list these words, or your selection of the ones you're likely to have to look up twice, as a "page" you can pull up on a cell phone; I prefer storing my word list as a document, because there's no additional charge, no need to use up phone memory, and also it's easier to remember words if I've typed them myself. If you want to create your own Spanish vocabulary document, Webster's is a starting point.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Book Review: Woman on the Edge of Time

A Fair Trade Book

(Note that I currently have four copies of this book, different editions, and what Amazon is currently showing as a New Book is different from all of them.)

Title: Woman on the Edge of Time

Author: Marge Piercy

Date: 1976

Publisher: Knopf

ISBN: none

Length: 384 pages

Quote: "Sweet earth, I lie in your lap. / I borrow your strength. I win you every day."

Of all the books on my college reading list I think it's fair to say that this is the one that's given me most pleasure over the years. I think it's likely that never before or since has the Old Left's utopian dream been so beautifully portrayed.

Do I disagree with many of its stated and underlying beliefs? Of course.

Did the teacher who assigned it expect students to disagree with it? Of course.

Has even Piercy, according to her more recent books, come to disagree with some of it? Of course. Because this novel is a utopian fantasy as idealistic as The Silmarillion. It is not, never was, never could have been, and never will be real--but between the covers of this book is enclosed a real memory of good people who sincerely believed in their utopian dream.

That said, I must now, in order to maintain membership in the Aunts' Union, mention that it's not really a nice book. In the best tradition of the twentieth century's distrust of imagination, the socialist utopia is presented as a series of visions--either an experiment in mental telepathy that's much more successful than any of the real ones, or a psychotic fugue, whichever you prefer--in contrast to the horrible Socialist Realist life of the protagonist, Connie Ramos. Both Connie's real life and her visionary life are full of violence, other sexual perversions, deceit, abuse, and wrongful death. I've never found the novel pornographic, erotic, or tempting in any way, but it certainly contains more "onstage" sex and violence than this web site's contract would allow.

Well...the story starts with Connie's closest friend and niece, Dolly, a prostitute, bursting into Connie's home to get away from the father of her prospective baby, who is trying to force her to have an abortion. During the first chapter the scumbag and the abortionist come in after Dolly, there's a fight in which Connie breaks the scumbag's nose, and Connie ends up in the hospital with the scumbag manipulating the other two into agreeing that Connie is the one who beat up the three younger people. How is this possible? Well...Connie has a record. While mourning her last bedmate's death, she got drunk, broke her little girl's arm, and pled insanity. As a forty-year-old pauper who's actually quite levelheaded, Connie ought logically to get out of the hospital in a week or two, but unfortunately some people happen to be looking for patients with what's not yet been formally labelled an "Intermittent Explosive Disorder"...if they really try, and they do, they can convince themselves that Connie is a salvageable patient who really happens to suffer from "violent episodes."

Before admission to the hospital, Connie had noticed--or had she hallucinated?--that she seemed to be being stalked by a young man, but it was hard to tell to what extent he was "real." During the most boring moments in the hospital, she learns that although this person is healthier and more confident than Connie expects women her age to be, the young man is in fact a woman her age, a telepathic visitor from the future. Although any lapse of attention breaks their contact, they are able to visit each other's time and place at will, and for most of a year they do.

Connie's visitor is Luciente from Mattapoisett, a post-socialist utopian anarchist village that self-identifies with the Wamponaugs. All the people Connie notices in Mattapoisett remind her of people in her "real" life, as in one of those movies where people in the "real" and "dreamed" worlds are played by the same actors; Luciente just might be Connie's alter ego, but then again Luciente's future surprises and doesn't always please Connie. Luciente is participating in a psychic experiment, she says, in which people with telepathic talent try to make psychic contact with people in the past and inspire them to make the choices that will allow Luciente and her community to exist. Luciente is bound not to tell Connie what to do, in so many words, but if Connie makes the wrong choice, "We could--wink out."

While the danger facing Connie in the hospital slowly unfolds, we learn all about Connie's individual past as well as Luciente's future present. Connie has had many unsatisfactory sexual relationships, beginning with her rather nasty older brother, followed by an abusive teacher, a handsome first husband who was murdered, an abusive husband who's disappeared, and the partner-in-crime whom she's still mourning. Luciente has had many sexual relationships that were more satisfactory, most of which are still going on in a Sexual Revolution sort of way; "the most intense" was a lesbian relationship she's mostly outgrown, and currently she's most involved with a bisexual youth who resembles a homosexual patient in the hospital, and a mature man who resembles Connie's last man--so strongly that in one scene, at a party where everyone in Mattapoisett is "silly with wine and marijuana," Luciente goes off with her old girlfriend and leaves Connie to share what will probably be her last sexual experience with Luciente's bedmate. Some details of all this sexual activity are left to readers' imaginations; not enough. We're told more than we may have needed to know about other characters' sex lives, too, and although we meet two asexual characters as well as all the hetero- and homo- and bi-sexuals, the one sexual persona we do not meet in this novel is a happily married monogamous person. Feh.

But although Piercy dishes all the sexual "dirt on" her characters, she does a good job of keeping it in realistic proportion. Nobody, not even the teenagers (?!?!), seems to be "in love." People in Mattapoisett, and some people in Connie's real world, use sex to express friendship and good will. Other people in Connie's real world use sex as a selfish, abusive means of exploitation. People have lives. Money, social status, love of family, friendship, creative self-expression, and public spirit matter to these characters too. I suppose that's why the amount of explicit sex in this book never put me off. I am not, although this web site officially is, disgusted by any mention of any body part; I'm merely bored witless by endless details about bodies that don't seem to be occupied by human minds. The characters in Woman on the Edge of Time have human minds.

Increasingly, the focus of those human minds is on the social implications of Jose Delgado's neurological studies. (Those were real; Woman on the Edge of Time has a fair claim on the title "science fiction.") I happened first to read this book during the same term when my psychology textbook discussed Delgado's studies and the ethical dangers of paying too much to the possible implications of trying to control "the human spirit" by direct manipulation of the human brain. It was lucky for Delgado that he had a Spanish name and cultural permission, in the early 1970s, to experiment with direct electrical manipulation of aggressive behavior in bulls.

Well...Connie and some of her friends, especially the splendid ace character Sybil (a dead ringer for Luciente's girlfriend), sultry Southern Alice (who resembles the official "healer" in Mattapoisett), and lovable homosexual Skip (who resembles Luciente's younger man), all sane and decent people whose violence has been purely defensive, are about to be used in fictional experiments inspired by Delgado's. Each of them feels a need to escape or at least ruin the experiments. Each tries a different way, or ways. What Connie will do, in the hope of saving Mattapoisett and (she hopes) Sybil, is what makes her the "woman on the edge of time," and any more about that would ruin the suspense of the story, so I'd better stop right there. Whether it would have worked, in real life...I said I'd stop.

In one early review of Woman on the Edge of Time, some forgettable curmudgeon groused that Piercy spent too much time walking us through pleasant scene after pleasant scene in Mattapoisett. Margaret Atwood retorted that that was appropriate, because Woman on the Edge of Time was not a conventional adventure, romance, or fictional biography-type novel but "a utopia." And so it delightfully is--the most vividly realized, and for me the most plausible, utopia I've ever read.

Before reading this book I wouldn't have imagined it possible for a novel to begin and end with obscenely ugly violence and, in between those two ugly scenes and many others, communicate an experience of joy; yet that's what Woman on the Edge of Time does. It can be enjoyed as escape reading: take a Mattapoisett scene before bed if you want pleasant dreams.

Is escape fiction all it is? I think not.

Granted, we've all had many opportunities to see that no socialist government ever has led or will lead to Marx's implausible fantasy of a totalitarian government magically withering away, leaving people in the communist paradise-on-earth. Granted, even when viably small-scale experiments in voluntary communism work, they don't lead to paradise; the ones that don't fall apart when nobody feels inspired to do the housework tend to fall apart when children are born, founders grow old, or "community elders" die, or any combination of those. And granted, Mattapoisett is unmistakably an example of voluntary communism; a small village, because communism has rarely worked even for a small village, because the odds are against its working even for one family of grown-up brothers and sisters, but it's so beautiful when it does work...

Considering the technology of Mattapoisett, I don't see it as viable, much less sustainable. Our "smart phones" are already dang close to Luciente's and friends' "kenners," and what fun they are, and what awe they would have inspired in the 1970s, but they're not sustainable in any hypothetical economy remotely like Mattapoisett's; they're being underwritten by people who hope and intend to use them as tools of totalitarian government, and although they're not cheap for us to use, they may yet prove to be too expensive even for plutocrats to sustain. I can picture a community where bicycle pools work, where you could just grab a bike from public storage point A and ride it to storage point B and then continue on public transportation, but even if it were possible to eliminate all brain damage (nice trick!) and also all the social oppression that produces antisocial emotional reactions (even nicer!), I can't picture that system working in the freewheeling way it seems to work in Mattapoisett--not for many people, not for long. The eugenically engineered babies gestated in incubators seem a pure fantasy, neither viable nor, if they were viable, really desirable, even if the payoff could be that nobody would ever be born with any kind of physical or mental disability, not even extroversion.

But I do see, as in Piercy's memoir Sleeping with Cats, a sort of splendid shining archetype of an experience we might call The Very Best Summer You Ever Had. For at least one summer, between the ages of ten and thirty, your health was perfect; you were bursting with crazy adolescent energy; you wanted to push yourself to the limits of your physical and mental powers. And you had friends and co-workers; at least some of them became your synergistic partners; all your favorite people seemed to be doing your favorite things along with you. And oh the days, oh the days, oh the fine long summer days, and the nights when you dragged yourself to bed savoring the bliss of finally being tired out, and the mornings when you bounced out of bed eager to get tired out all over again, because you were learning and doing and sharing so much! If you've had that experience, for all your life you'll remember it as Paradise On Earth. (And there might have been a romance somewhere in the mix, too--but that was gravy.) Everybody was having "peak experiences." Everybody was "achieving flow." Each person's emotional "high" was feeding into each other person's "high."

It has nothing to do with communism except that, incidentally, Piercy's friends happened to be Marxists who found joy in working toward their socialist revolution. It's about community...a community of task-focussed, conscientious, gifted-and-talented introverts. Similar community experiences have been documented among religious groups, humanitarian mission groups, scientific research groups, organizers of schools and hospitals, even capitalists building businesses together, as well as hippie communes and Israeli kibbutzim. They are almost obligatory for musical bands. I had two different Mattapoisett-like summers, with different people, in different places. In other books--The Valley of Song seems to have tried hardest--other writers have described similar experiences; I think Piercy has brought the joy of synergistic work to life more vividly and credibly than any other author in English, living or dead.

And so, knowing how the story ends, I've found myself rereading Woman on the Edge of Time every five years or so, marvelling each time at how skillfully Piercy spins the illusion, and basking in the joys of working out my vocation now and remembering times when my work flowed together with other's work. This is not just an ordinary feel-good book. It's a feel-profoundly-good book.

If you buy it here, unless you specify one particular edition, you'll get whichever (of about a dozen editions) is currently the best bargain: $5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment. Depending on whether you get the oversized hardcover or a mass-market paperback, one to seven more books of this size could fit into one $5 package. Amazon's prices and selections change daily; e-mail salolianigodagewi to discuss your options.