Monthly Archives: May 2015

Book Review — Collected Poems, 1966 by Robert Graves

We two elementals, woman and man,
Approach each other from far away:
I on the lower wind, She on the upper.

The Meeting

Collected Poems, 1966 by Robert Graves
This collection was given to me as a gift from a friend from childhood I reconnected with a few years ago. We were friends in high school and this collection was one that was once in our high school library. I have been reading through this collection for the past several months. Reading a few poems here and a few poems there. I am fairly certain I have read almost everything by now, but will still continue to page through.

This is a near complete collection covering all but the World War I poems. Graves left the war poems out of his later collections because the were too much part of the war poetry boom. World War was said to be the last war that poetry was written about. There are tomes upon tomes of first wold war poetry. Graves wrote on a wide variety topics from love to death and Greek Gods to nature. The style is simple, elegant, and straightforward:

The Twin of Sleep

Death is the twin of sleep they say:
For I shall rise renewed,
Free from the cramps of yesterday,
Clear-eyed and supple-thewed

But through this bland analogy
Help other folks face
Decrepitude, senility,
Madness, disease, and disgrace,

I do not like Death’s greedy looks:
Give me his twin instead —
Sleep never auctions off my books,
My boots, my shirt, my bed.

Although this collection is out of print, there are other complete and selected works available. This is a collection to treasure one to enjoy on the porch with a cup of coffee or on a park bench. It is meant to be sampled rather than read from cover to cover. Mark your favorite poems with post-it notes, write in the margins, and share with others. Graves captured the essence of poetry in the 20th century and his writing is something that can be enjoyed by all.

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Book Review — D. H. Lawrence: The Dover Reader

D. H. Lawrence: The Dover Reader is an anthology of the writing of D.H. Lawrence. Lawrence was a writer of non-fiction, novels, short stories, and poetry. He also painted, translated, and was a literary critic. His writing shook post-Victorian England. He saw modernizing and industrial growth as dehumanizing and concentrated more on the human element.  His most famous work Lady Chatterley’s Lover was heavily censored when it was published in 1928. When it was released in 1946, uncensored, Penguin Books in Britain was brought up on obscenity charges. The charges were dismissed and today the book would not even have made a ripple in the moral fabric.

This Dover edition includes Sons and Lovers as its anchor which is a solid work and one that does not first come to mind when thinking of Lawrence. It is followed up with several excellent short stories. These seem complete in their format and do not leave the reader wanting closure or looking for the complete story. The poetry section is well done. Lawrence keeps with the more classical format. The poem “Snake” is a remarkable human experience with nature and regret when societal norms have the poet act outside of his personal feelings. The collection closes with writings on psychoanalysis. Not being a student of psychology, I found this section a bit beyond my interests, but it does show the well-roundedness of Lawrence’s work and education. In the modern world of specialization, Lawrence comes through as a man who explored and took in everything.

This anthology presents a broad look at Lawrence’s work. In the ebook edition, the index allows the reader to jump to different sections, chapters, and individual poems. Although free editions of these books exist, they are machine transferred and full of inaccuracies and odd characters. The Dover edition presents a properly formatted ebook that is error free and allows for the full feature functioning in your e-reader or reading application. Another outstanding anthology, and  recommended for those needing an introduction of Lawrence or wanting to expand beyond a single novel.

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Book Review — La Far

La Far by Eric Linsker

La Far by Eric Linsker is a collection of poems that won the Iowa Poetry Prize in 2014.Linsker is a graduate of Harvard College, where he received the Academy of American Poets Prize. His poems have appeared or will appear in American Letters & Commentary, Colorado Review, Conjunctions, Denver Quarterly, nth position, Parcel, and other journals. He earned MFA in poetry at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has received the John Logan Poetry Prize. He is an adjunct professor of English who has taught at Baruch College, Queens College and the N.Y.C. College of Technology.

I received this collection last year from the University of Iowa Press to review. As the deadline drew near, I had to write back and admit that I could not finish this collection. Much to my surprise, they were very understanding. I tried several times and although I could pick up bits and pieces, most of it went right by me. So a year later, I finally read through it and have some confidence in my understanding of it although a good deal simply did process in my mind.

I could see what he was doing with the lines. Verbally the words did not seem to fit the line structure and punctuation. I got plenty of the water theme throughout the book and certain lines did jump up and grab me.

>What happens after the universe
is it becomes more pixilated
and colors blacken from each branch


This reminded me of the holographic principle in string theory. And as weird as new science can be Linsker’s poems are not too far behind. There seems to be quite a bit of “noise” surrounding the pieces that I can grasp. Once I viewed the work as sort of a word maze, it became easier and I enjoyed it. It was not the simple enjoyment of Blake or Wordsworth, but the enjoyment you get after solving a complex calculus. The work is not that much fun, but the discovery makes it worthwhile.

I could be completely wrong with what I came to understand in my reading. I tried to look at other reviews to see if I was on the right track, but Goodreads gave only star ratings and Amazon had mostly one star reviews, but from those comments it seems pretty clear they were not written by poetry readers. So I will go out on a limb and post my thoughts.

Intriguing and difficult at times La Far seem to be the poetic equivalent to panning for gold. There is a great deal of work sifting through the words to find the bits of gold. This is a collection that I will read several more times and will probably gain more from each reading.

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Book Review — City Times and Other Poems

City Times and Other Poems is a small collection of poetry by Vihand Naik. Naik is a contemporary Indian poet, translator, literary and art critic. He read for a BA in English studies and Philosophy and took an MA in English Literature and Indian Literature in translation at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.

Many small poetry collections and new or foreign poets have slipped by me in the past.  Last night I was writing back a forth to a friend discussing authors and why people need to center around the same old writers.  Why not something new and different?  Here is something different and something that stands on its own against the best of the establish poets.

City Times and Other Poems is an unintimidating slim volume.  The poet is from India, but there is no hint of this in the writing.  Instead, the sparse words move off the page like electrons creating great images in the TV screen of our brains.  To be honest, it is an incredible transformation of words to imagery and feeling. I am at a delightful loss of words to explain it or say more. It needs to be experienced.  Simply said, “Read it. It’s like magic.”

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Book Review — Commitment and Sacrifice: Personal Diaries from the Great War

Commitment and Sacrifice by Frans Coetzee

Commitment and Sacrifice: Personal Diaries from the Great War edited and notated by Frans Coetzee, Marilyn Shevin-Coetzee is a collection of six diaries from six very different people involved in the fighting of the first world war. The Coetzees are independent scholars; they have previously taught at Yale and George Washington Universities. Marilyn is the author of The German Army League: Popular Nationalism in Wilhelmine Germany and Frans the author ofFor Party or Country: Nationalism and the Dilemmas of Popular Conservatism in Edwardian England. Together, they have co-edited Authority, Identity and the Social History of the Great War; World War I and European Society: A Sourcebook; World War I: A History in Documents; and The World in Flames:A World War II Sourcebook.

Last year was the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI and many books on the subject were published. Some were very good at offering insight to areas not usually covered in general history. Books concentrating on the Eastern front were published. At least one book on Gallipoli and the Mandate System found their way into my hands. Different views of the war were presented with some placing the blame squarely on Germany while others examining the entire diplomatic/military failure. Books were published on the diplomacy leading up to the war and the compulsion for the people to readily enter into war after fifty years of peace and growing prosperity. Commitment and Sacrifice examines the war through first hand accounts of those involved directly and indirectly in the fighting.

Usually, first-hand accounts are used to show the horror and senselessness of the fighting and the horrid conditions in the trenches. Here six individuals are chosen and their diaries published. The diaries are notated with historical references, explanations of slang and foreign words, and corrections of misused foreign words, places, and people. Before each diary account is a short biography of the writer and his wartime environment. Rather than the diaries of six infantrymen on the French lines the people chosen are from a variety of nations and stationed at different locations.

The book opens with Englishman John French, a sapper, and his account of the war. It is very British — straightforward and to the point. French documents well but without emotion. Philip Cate an American ambulance volunteer relates his experiences. He writes with great detail and interest. Perhaps not being shot at in the trenches gave him more time and a better outlook on the war. Willy Wolff, was a German living in England at the outbreak of the war and found himself like other German nationals in an internment camp. I did not, before, realize the extent of the internment camps in England. Not only were the camps filled with Germans, a sizeable percentage of them were Jews. James D Hutchison was a New Zealander, part of the ANZAC forces, who served as an artilleryman at Gallipoli. He would later return as an officer on the western front. Henri Desagneaux was a french infantry officer on the front. He was a soldier’s soldier. From his writing, his disdain for the higher ranking officers who only came to the forward areas to inspect and criticize the troops is clear. Finally, Felix Kaufmann, a German prisoner of war, records his story of life as a prisoner in France.

These men came from different places, held different positions, and supported different sides in the war. Much like the fable of the blind men and the elephant, the different experiences give a complete picture of the war. Like the modern military two things were important to the diarists — letters from home and food. The diaries provide a unique view of the war. Unlike letters home about the war which were censored and written so loved ones would not worry about their safety, these were personal observations that were meant to be kept private filled with real feelings and observations. This is the war as experienced by the participants who wrote what they experienced with no ulterior motives unlike newspapers or novelists which tend to sensationalize.Commitment and Sacrifice provides a rare look at the war through the private thoughts of those involved.

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Book Review — The End of Automobile Dependence: How Cities are Moving Beyond Car-Based Planning

The End of Automobile Dependence by Peter Newman

The End of Automobile Dependence: How Cities are Moving Beyond Car-Based Planning by Peter Newman, Jeffrey Kenworthy is the third book in what is a study of moving from car dependent society. Newman is an environmental scientist, author and educator based in Perth, Western Australia. He is currently Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University and since 2008 a member of Infrastructure Australia. Kenworthy is a guest lecturer at Frankfurt University of Applied Science. He is on the faculty at Curtin University and supervises postgraduate students in urban sustainability fields. He has 35 years experience in urban transport and land use policy with over 250 publications in the field, he has lectured in 30 countries and 79 cities throughout the world, and he has authored numerous books and publications, includingSustainability and Cities with Peter Newman.

This is a book I would like to walk into a city council meeting and thump on the table before the council and say “Read it.”. I live in a suburb north of Dallas and it is car-centric to say the least. Sidewalks randomly end. Streets in housing divisions do not line up making it nearly impossible to cross the major streets — three lanes in each direction and (a mostly unenforced) 45 mph speed limit. There are walking trails, but the pedestrian or cyclist is on their own when crossing six lanes of traffic. The city boasts miles and miles of bicycle routes, but the only difference between bike routes and other streets are that one has signs the other does not. School zones are a hazard for anyone on foot or a bicycle. I have been advised by the police that it is too dangerous to ride a bike in the school zone and I should find another route. Currently the city is ripping up the green center islands on boulevards to add extra lanes for cars — not bike lanes or sidewalks.

The End of Automobile Dependencies brings up a rather obvious key point; We are at peak car capacity. We are running out of room to add more lanes, we have smog days, and we spend too much time commuting. Of course light rail (which interestingly cost about the same as road expansion mile to mile) could handle much more traffic and higher speeds than cars but people do not want to give up their cars. In Texas, too, there is the mentality that building and supporting public transportation is called subsidizing (socialism), but building roads is called investment in infrastructure (capitalism). This is sad for a nation that was built on rails. This book explains that different cities developed in different ways. Old cities were compact and walkable. Store owners lived above their shops and the butcher, baker, and corner stores were all in walking distance. After World War II the car culture began and suburbs were built and cars became common, by the seventies sprawl made cars an absolute necessity. There are even subdivisions here that do not have sidewalks, only a concrete path from your front door to the street where you park your car.

After recognizing the key point, it is not all doom and gloom. Newman and Kenworthy examine practical and workable solutions that have been used around the world. They make case studies of cities in the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, and South America. China, for example, is seeing early on what car culture is doing to its cities and is working to limit the number of cars that are licensed. Other cities bar or limit cars from city centers. If the majority of employment occurs in certain areas light rail is a smart option over multilane freeways and massive amounts of land needed for parking. With Google Maps, take a satellite look over your city and look at all the land tied up in parking — Malls, Junior Colleges, factories, and corporate centers. Each of the cities looked at found different solutions to their transportation problems. Public transportation, walking, and cycling are used to some extent. The idea that cars mean prosperity is challenged in several places including Vancouver which rejected a highway system through the city in the 1970s. It is a prosperous city and one where getting around is not a problem. Seoul, South Korea, and Portland removed sections of highway and now have better traffic flow and nicer public areas.

The End of Automobile Dependence is filled with studies, facts, and graphs. It has case studies on the effects of change in cities. It presents an excellent case against suburban sprawl.This is the answer book. The problem is with detailed information like this, no one will challenge it, they will simply ignore it. Why fight a losing battle? Still some people are listening. The younger generation is moving away from car ownership. Some cities are making the move to make it safe for bicycle commuting. City centers are seeing a renewal and revival as people are starting to look for convenience. There is hope, but we (at least Texas) are spending millions against that hope.

As I opened with, I would love to take this book to city hall, but I realize it would do no good. The people on the council are elected by voters. Those voters drive cars. They drive cars to go to the park and walk. They load up bicycles into cars and drive to ride bikes. Even walking and cycling here are tied to cars. But, unless the city is willing to infringe on property owners and widen streets into their yards, there is not much expansion left. We have light rail, but we are the terminus of the route. The city to the north refuses to allow light rail through their city because it would bring riff-raff. I don’t drive and public transportation is several miles away. I walk six miles to work and six miles home. Occasionally I take a risk and ride a bike but the risk usually outweighs the benefit. I was run down from behind by a car last year and although not badly injured I was told by the police that if I rode faster I wouldn’t get run down. So as much as I see the truth and benefit in this book, it is going to take something dramatic or catastrophic to change the thinking of the local government and the priorities of the local police. This is north Texas and sad to say if you want to walk, drive to the park.


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Book Review — Buddhism for Dudes: A Jarhead’s Field Guide to Mindfulness

This is a book for guys who watch Caddyshack at least once a year.

Buddhism for Dudes by Gerry  Stribling

Buddhism for Dudes: A Jarhead’s Field Guide to Mindfulness by Gerry Stribling is an introduction to Buddhism written by a former Marine with a masters in education from the University of Louisville. He has studied Buddhism in Sri Lanka and in 2003 he was awarded the title of Dhammaduta, lay teacher of Dharma.

As a Marine myself, I found it hard to pass up a book on Buddhism written by a fellow Marine. Being a Marine in itself requires breaking a few precepts and not quite hitting the Eight Fold Path head on, and that’s all before breakfast. However, a disciplined and a regimented lifestyle fit in and surprisingly Stribling explains Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration into Marine guard duty. Stribling breaks Buddhism down so a Marine can understand it. It’s not that we aren’t smart; it’s just our focus and job description points us down another path, so to speak.

To most Americans over fifty Buddhism is the burning monk protesting the Vietnam war. To the younger generation, it is the Dalai Lama. But Buddhism is not symbolism it is being a stand-up guy, someone who will not let you down. It’s not about Buddha; it’s about what he said. Buddha was not a God and did not have all the answers. In fact, Buddha did not talk about God or deny God. His mission was the dharma. Stribling at one point calls Gautama (Buddha’s real name) a dharma bum, which immediately put the Kerouac novel of the same name into my head. Buddha was an ordinary man who lived and died.

There are some comparisons to Christianity and the discussion if Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy. The Four Noble Truths, The Eightfold Path, and the Five Precepts are discussed and explained in clear and sometimes humorous language. For example, one of the Five Precepts is not to kill. The concept of not killing is not rationalized. It is simply something that should not be done. But you can defend yourself, it is natural. War is not. There are no wars carried out in the name of Buddhism. Killing of animals follows the same logic. A rabid dog about to bite your daughter is a problem. You, as anyone, would kill the dog before it bit your daughter. It is the logical thing to do. It is the human thing to do. The killing, however, has consequences. Each time you kill makes it easier to kill again and what happened under extreme circumstances may now happen in lesser circumstances. That is the problem even when you kill in self-defense.

Stribling gives a great explanation of death and its results in a eulogy he wrote. It is as logical and as scientific as it is philosophical. Buddhism provides an unclouded way to look at, life the universe, and everything. Buddhism for Dudes is simple and easy to follow but written well enough that it can be read and reread over again. Why is it for dudes and not dudettes too? Simply because the author is male and clueless about women despite being married for forty years…I think it has something to do with the morning meditation ritual. A great read. Informative, entertaining, and will stick in any Marine’s (or average Joe’s) brain housing group. I loved this book and that’s something I don’t often say.

(A careful reader also will discover why the Dalai Lama is always smiling)


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Book Review — The Early Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Early Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Early Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald published by Dover Publications is the prequel to The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, and Tender is the Night. Fitzgerald was a renowned writer before his famous novels. His early works appeared in magazines and he made most of his money writing short stories. His early works allow the reader who is familiar with his later novels to see Fitzgerald’s development and evolution as a writer. For those who are not familiar with his novels, these short stories will introduce the reader to Fitzgerald in bite size pieces. The reader will also be introduced to the Jazz Age and the hip culture of the time.

Most of the stories were written in the early 1920s and reflected the age and post-war boom. The opening stories, however, were published during the war in Europe. Fitzgerald’s influences were mostly on the wilder side as he befriended many of the other American writers living in Paris popularly known as the Lost Generation. Writers moved to Paris for the lower cost of living, good bars, and relaxed “social” attitude. America seemed uptight and Paris allowed creativity.

Dover picks a wide selection of stories with various themes and presents them in chronological order. The short introduction by James Daley provides the reader with the background information and what to expect from the collection. The book, on the whole, gives the reader a great introduction to F Scott Fitzgerald and his work. It is well prepared and a great value for $4.50 paperback edition. This is not so much a review of Fitzgerald. It is already established that he is a great writer and, of course, some stories are better than others. This is more a review of the Dover publication. The selection, introduction, and, of course, the price makes this a great read for those interested in the period, the author, or literature in general. Like most Dover collections I have read in the past, I am hard pressed to find a fault in it. Highly recommended.

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Book Review — Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy

Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy

Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy by Frank McLynn is a detailed history of Asia’s most famous ruler. McLynn is a British author, biographer, historian and journalist. He is noted for critically acclaimed biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte, Robert Louis Stevenson, Carl Jung, Richard Francis Burton and Henry Morton Stanley. He was Alistair Horne Research Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford (1987–88) and was visiting professor in the Department of Literature at the University of Strathclyde (1996–2001) and professorial fellow at Goldsmiths College London (2000–2002) before becoming a full-time writer

There is hardly a person who has not heard the name Genghis Khan. The Mongols have been a namesake to rock bands and biker gangs. They both invoke powerful images of violence, discipline, empire, and military conquest. He was a man that lived eight hundred years ago but has one of the most detailed histories of the period. This is the second biography and history of the Mongols I have read and at 704 pages, it was much shorter than the other biography I read. There is certainly not a lack of information on Genghis Khan.

Like Ivan IV of Russia and Machiavelli, their negative information in common culture far exceeds any positive information. The truth of the matter is different. Although the Mongols under Genghis Khan were responsible for many massacres, they had rules. For example, they highly valued diplomatic emissaries and to kill one was a great insult. They openly accepted and valued new religions in their lands. However, the killing of all the residents of the city over ten years old, except for select artisans and harem women is true. Genghis Khan did deploy a “surrender or die” ultimatum to cities. Those that did not surrender were destroyed. Those that did surrender and came to a tribute agreement were left alone. Gaining land without losing warriors was always preferred. Trade became important too with the agreement with the Venetians and bringing the Silk Road under Mongol control.

Genghis Khan cover the life of Temujin from his birth to his rise to Khan of all Khans. The road was not easy it is a story of alliances, friendships, and conquests in small steps. It is also a story of creating a society under laws and codes and balancing that with dictatorial rule. One of his first tasks as Khan was to set up a civil government and military. Genghis Khan used meritocracy to fill in the ranks. It was not uncommon for shepherds to become military leaders based on experience. Many rules of the society were practical for people living on the steppes. Rules around running water were interesting in what was considered polluting it. Water had an almost supernatural quality to it for the people of the steppes. A wide variety of “crimes” carried the death penalty on the steppes including polluting running water, slaughtering animals in an improper way, assisting an escaped slave, adultery, and horse thievery.

The author offers some interesting information on the way the westward expansion stopped. Having conquered the east to the Pacific Ocean, the westward expansion stopped in Europe. There are many theories discussed in the book on why the Mongols did not continue, but one strikes me as the most interesting. The Mongols were practical people. They lived and conquered on the steppes, it was their universe. The forests of Europe to them would be considered a wasteland to them. The land was not useful to their way of life and they saw no reason to fight for it. That, however, is only one of many theories.

McLynn gives a very detailed, but very readable history of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. The book contains information on troops, captured, treasures, military tactics, and information that seems to come from government records on the numbers of animals, economic, and even environmental information. The history cover Temujin life and the empire through Kublai Khan and the final conquest of China. Very well worth the read for the historical insight and an understanding of the people.

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Book Review — The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and the Epic Age of Flight

The Aviators by Winston Groom

The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and the Epic Age of Flight by Winston Groom is the intertwining stories of three of the greatest aviators in America and for that matter the world. Groom is an American novelist and non-fiction writer, best known for his book Forrest Gump, which was adapted into a film in 1994. He served in the Army from 1965 to 1969, including a tour in Vietnam. Groom devotes his time to writing history books about American wars.

This is another audiobook edition I have listened to over the last week. These are my thoughts and opinions in the audiobook and not a critical review because I am missing the bibliographical information and a list of source material used by the author.

If asked about these men before listening to the book I would have given fairly simple histories. Rickenbacker: Ohio native, Ace of Aces, and Hat in the Ring. Doolittle: Raid on Tokyo. Lindberg: Spirit of St. Louis, kidnapping, rumored Nazi sympathizer. The Aviators goes much deeper into their personal lives and histories. I never knew Doolittle made the first instrument only flight or Rickenbacker ironically sold Fokker planes after the war. I really surprised that Lindbergh flew unofficially with the Marines in the Pacific during WWII. He was a civilian advisor that volunteered to fly combat missions to “test” the handling of the planes. When told that as a civilian that if he was captured the Japanese would execute him. Lindbergh said he heard the Japanese would do that even if he was in uniform.

The stories of the lives of these men intertwine they had their ups and downs and political friction about the military and America’s aviation program. They were all famous in their own way, but Lindbergh was “The Beatles” of American aviation. I remember the moon landing and the celebration that entailed, but it was nothing compared to Lindbergh’s popularity and worldwide fame. Even after his “fall” people still respected him for his accomplishments, if not his opinions.

The men’s personal and business lives add depth to the story and all the men stayed involved in the aircraft business throughout their lives. They clashed with businesses and the military hierarchy. They put their lives at risk for the good of the nation even when they disagreed with the politics. Rickenbacker spent twenty-four days adrift in the Pacific when the plane he was on ditched into the ocean; he was on a tour of the Pacific visiting airbases. The men’s lives outside of what made them famous are just as exciting as their high points. Not one of them rested after becoming famous. Their stories are an inspiration to all.

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