Monthly Archives: March 2016

Book Review — Chicago Stories

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

Carl Sandburg

“There are eight million stories in the naked city” is how New York is described in the Naked City. Los Angeles is the city that reinvents itself every two days. People live there, but no one is from there. In the middle lies a city the City of Big Shoulders, the Windy City, and taken as a sign of disrespect, the “Second City.” Chicago is often overlooked in favor the coastal cities when it comes to culture, trends, and styles. Even in television, New York has Mike Hammer. LA has Joe Friday. Chicago has Al Bundy. Chicago, however, has stories that reflect the same hope as LA and the same grittiness of New York.

Chicago was and is an important city as the short stories in this collection tell. There are stories about politics and big dreams. Publishing and baseball. There is the sense of the LA optimism mixed with a harsh New York reality. The stories range through the entire twentieth century and the reader will see the city evolve and grow, not always for the better.

Zane Grey writes of baseball and a rising star. Nelson Algren tells the story of a young Polish gang member and his interrogation by the police who are out for a conviction instead of truth or justice. Richard Wright writes about a black man searching for upward mobility moving from dead end job to dead end job. Conversely, Saul Bellow writes of an educated white man working to hand out relief checks in mostly black neighborhoods. He is met with distrust. Chicago is a mix of people, races, and ethnic backgrounds all bringing something to the city.

Dover Thrift Editions brings together fourteen Chicago stories chosen by editor James Daley. This collection works well even for those, like myself, who are not fans of short stories. I read the collection for the Chicago aspect. Being from another often ignored Rust Belt city I read for the commonalities between my experience and that of Chicago. The common background of Chicago and the chronological order of the stories ties everything together nicely. The reader is taken out of the short story theme and put into more of a historical setting. Dover Thrift excels at giving the read a bigger bang for the buck. This collection sells for $4.50 (about a dollar less in ebook format) and is well worth the price. A fine collection of short stories about a strong and proud city.

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Poetry Review –Slow States of Collapse: Poems

Slow States of Collapse: Poems

Slow States of Collapse: Poems by Ashley-Elizabeth Best is her first published collection of poetry. Best is from Cobourg, Ontario. Her work has appeared in Fjords, CV2, Berfrois, Grist, and Ambit Magazine, among other publications. Recently, she was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry.

This is quite an interesting collection of poetry it starts off well enough and almost without realizing it, the reader is introduced to what sounds domestic violence “that really wasn’t meant” and life-threatening disease. It is, as the title hints, a slow state of collapse. Best can still write beautiful lines in the face the collapse:

We’re strangers descendants
returned, sounding the healing
depth of silence


The sky churns terminal clouds,
falls slack and dull into an umber

From the bus ride east and running and feeling the Braille of her sister’s spine to visiting her brother in jail, the brother she turned in the poems weave a story. There is a descent into darkness so slow and steady that it goes by unnoticed. The reader will suddenly look up from his or her reading and ask “How did I get here?” There are problems with men from “loving daddy was like inviting wasps to nest under your skin”, to a jailed brother, a boyfriend with Betty tattooed on his neck, to being ” the best little bit on the side” with a shipwreck between her thighs.

Self-image contrasts nature in the collection. Even in its dreariest moments nature holds some beauty while the person uses, tries to hide, her image in graceful words– “an elephantine infusion, the porous borders of my curves widening threat.” The high points seem high only in comparison to the usual events making up life.

This is an enjoyable collection of poetry in that it delivers emotion and reality in a way that will have an effect on the reader. Moving and emotional. A few of Best’s poems can be found here along with audio of her reading:…

This is a very worthy collection to both read and own. It is available on April 1, 2016, published by ECW Press and will be available from the usual reading sources.

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Book Review –The Town and the City: A Novel

The Town and the City by Jack Kerouac

The Town and the City: A Novel by Jack Kerouac is Kerouac’s first novel and writing in a semi-autobiographical form. Kerouac needs no introduction to most readers. Everyone has read On the Road or at least, said they have read it. I found Kerouac difficult at first and the writing did not seem to flow right. A friend suggested I read it like the beat performers spoke and suddenly On the Road was very readable. The Town and the City: A Novel needs no special reading and is an excellent place to start for a reader wanting to pick up Kerouac. It flows well and tells the story Peter Martin a local boy who was unsure of himself until a day at football practice changes him. Peter (Jack Kerouac) is compared and contrasted with his brothers. Joe is the easy going trucking driving, beer drinking older brother who makes no more of his life than what it is and is content with it. Francis the wine drinking intellectual who longs for bigger and better things who finds himself in “his own cocoon of tormented adolescence.” He does, however, have one of the most emotional encounters in the book.

Kerouac in his earlier days loved to compare and contrast. InThe Town and the City it is not only the brothers that are examined but the town of Galloway, Massachusetts and New York City. Also compared are the character in both Galloway and New York. In New York Kerouac, as always, remembers his friends. Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs are present with a host of renamed beat friends. War and bankruptcy help drive the story.

Kerouac’s earlier work is much different from his more well-known later works. The writing is much more standard in format and the storytelling is more traditional than his later works. In a previously unreleased book, The Sea is my Brother(1940) many of the same writing mannerisms can be found. In The Sea is my Brother two brothers are compared and outgoing one and a safe one. They make a composite of Kerouac. In The Town and the City, we can also see this in Peter who like Kerouac was a football play and merchant marine. In Joe, we see a bit of the Dharma Bum and traveler. In Francis, we see the wine drinking cynic. There may even be a bit of Ginsberg in Francis who voluntarily commits himself to avoid an unpleasant alternative. Kerouac, even in his early fiction, writes about what he knows and lives. He lived an interesting life with interesting friends and what was not interesting could be changed by writing. The Town and the City provides not only a great story but insight into the so to be famous writer and Beat generation icon.

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Book Review –Frankenstein: with Illustrations by Nino Carbe

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I received the new Dover edition of Frankenstein: with Illustrations by Nino Carbe written by Mary Shelley. It is being released as a hardcover with the un-Dover like price tag of $40. What is gained in this edition from free PDF versions is the proper formatting and book that is worth keeping on your shelf. Also, what makes this a worthwhile edition is the inclusion of the original drawings by Antonio Carbe from the 1932 edition of this book. The monster is drawn as more a deformed man with human emotions than a stitched-together creature. Carbe’s daughter provides the foreword for this edition with a brief biography of her father.

I can’t recall how many times I watched the 1931 Frankenstein movie and Bride of Frankenstein and Frankenstein meets the Wolfman. The actual creation of the “monster” is the highpoint of the movie — The doctor and Igor in the electrical storm. The ending where we see the now stereotypical torch and pitchfork mob wanting vengeance. In the book, there is none of that. The monster’s creation is told as an after the fact story and aside from Felix and the ship’s captain Victor Frankenstein is the only living person to see the monster. No “It’s alive !!!” and no angry mobs. There have been many retellings of the story from Hollywood. Some loyal to the book others not. Even the writing of this book was made into a movie, 1986 Gothic starring Natasha Richardson as Mary Shelley.

A friend hearing I was reading this book a few years ago asked me to think about something while reading. What if the monster is not real and is really a demented Victor Frankenstein? The monster does move about with perfect stealth and reads Paradise Lost (which becomes an important theme), Goethe, and Plutarch, quite an accomplishment for a non-speaking, at the time, illiterate monster. Victor is also ill and his illness follows the deaths of his family and friends. Perhaps man is the ultimate monster, but there is so much literary history behind the commonly held beliefs of the story.

Maybe it’s time to pick up a new, old book and look at the story from a different angle. Discover something new. Relive a bit of your childhood and see how the movie versions of your favorite Universal Studios’ monster holds up to the original text. Yes, it is a monster book, but it is also a classic. It is the best of both worlds.

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Poetry Review — Sightlines

Sightlines by Henry Beissel
Sightlines by Henry Beissel is his seventeenth collection of poetry. Beissel had a long teaching career in English literature, and later in creative writing, which started as a teaching fellow at the University of Toronto. He taught at the University of Munich (1960–62)), the University of Alberta (1962–64) and Concordia University (Montreal) (1966–96), from which he retired as distinguished emeritus professor of English.

2016 has been an outstanding year in poetry and Sightlines earns itself a spot among the best of the year. The poems start with the poet’s old home in the woods and fills the reader’s mind with imagery of nature. There is an easy connection with the poet’s words and experience in nature. It is a poetic Walden. The reader is simply left in awe of the descriptions and experience. Sightlines is more than the trees and nature too:

For more than three decades Orion visited our sleep with his star-spangled sword, Jupiter and Mars wander up and down the shingled roof while Sun and Moon painted fleeting patterns across the pond.

Poems that focus on nature also include our intrusion on the land:

Profit is the world’s executioner. Cats and dozers erase forests, steel traps eliminate wolf and beaver, rifles exterminate bear and moose. We poison and plunder all habitats as if we owned them…

The poems change geographically but maintain the same descriptive force. Venice, Mexico and space are covered as well as a few passing references to dinosaurs. Beissel has grandchildren he writes for in this collection and there is no noticeable difference in the poetry’s composition, just the subject. Retirement has allowed Beissel to recall and share some fond memories of his life. The collection is open verse and welcoming to readers of either poetry or prose. This is a collection that any reader can fall into and enjoy the comfort of well-written poetry.

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Book Review — Experiencing the Rolling Stones: A Listener’s Companion

Experiencing the Rolling Stones: A Listener’s Companion by David Malvinni is a musical biography of the Rolling Stones. Malvinni a professional classical guitarist with a Ph.D. in musicology, whose passion is string instruments. In addition to Classical music, he has studied Gypsy violin music for the past ten years, which resulted in his book The Gypsy Caravan: From Real Roma to Imaginary Gypsies in Western Music and Film. He is also the author of Grateful Dead and the Art of Rock Improvisation.

It was summer 1978, I was 14, and grew up on AM Rock and Roll. I remember Bob Dylan and Lou Reed… David Bowie reading Peter and the Wolf and as well as being Major Tom. Suddenly everything changed. All the older kids listened to the “Stones” and I knew a few of their songs but now I had a new portable 8-track player my copy of “Some Girls.” Me, Bill, his sister Trina, Becky, and Dave listened to it. Dave was an FM guy and knew far more than we did. I do remember his irritation that the 8-track version “Shattered” cut out “Bite the Big Apple. Don’t mind the maggots.” It was that summer that the Rolling Stones became a permanent part of permanent music collection.  Later that year I watched mesmerized as the Rolling Stones played on Saturday Night Live. I always had “Some Girls” in some format from that time on — vinyl, cassette, CD, MP3.

The Rolling Stones have been making music for over fifty years now and, as a band, they have been pretty stable through the years. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have been there since the beginning and Charlie Watts almost from the start. Ronnie Wood since the mid-1970s. Rather than write another band biography, Malvinni writes a biography of their music. The Rolling Stones perform as a rock and roll band but record as a blues band. They have twenty-four studio albums and yet, for their Rock and Roll fans, can condense that to “40 Licks.”

Malvinni discusses how the band started by reintroducing Americans to their own blues music. From their start as a cover band and throughout their history they have re-released and re-interpreted many American blues and African-American traditional song. There is a discussion of the individual songs with details of chords, riffs, and technical information that can only be delivered by someone with a doctorate in music and to be fair he does have one of the most interesting guitarists to work with. The Stones have been chameleons in the music scene and to survive fifty years one needs to be. They changed with society, and at times fueled change in society, yet remained a guitar-centric band.

Experiencing the Rolling Stones is an excellent companion for the complete Stones’ fan. The examination of the music and its form gives a unique look at the band putting the concentration on the music rather than the personalities, drugs, and controversy. There is much more to the Rolling Stones music than the opening riff of “Satisfaction.” Malvinni rounds out even the most devoted Stones fan education.

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Book Review — What Is Subjectivity?

Sartre was a well-known existentialist, author, and philosopher. He came to Marxism later in life in the 1950s and brought with him his existentialism. France’s Marxist community embraced and accepted Lukac’s version of Marxism. This book concentrates on Sartre’s 1961 speech at the Gramsci Institute — ‘La Conference de Rome, 1961: Marxisme et subjectiveté’. This speech was an attack on the views held by Lukac and Sartre’s attempt to merge existentialism and Marxism.

The speech is rather short and surprisingly easy to read. I would suggest reading that first followed by the interviews, and then the preface. The preface assumes the reader is familiar with Sartre, Lukac, and Marxist philosophy, not just the political philosophy but a complete theory.

A worthwhile read for those interested in the evolution of Marist Theory, Sartre, or philosophy in general. It is a fairly difficult read for those with only a basic understanding of either of the above. Definitely not a book for everyone.

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Book Review — Freegans: Diving into the Wealth of Food Waste in America

Freegans: Diving into the Wealth of Food Waste in America by Alex V. Barnard is a study of the freegan movement from the beginnings to the present. Barnard is a graduate of Princeton with a bachelor’s in sociology. The topic of his senior thesis was “Pulling Sustainability from the Dumpster: Radical Community, Activist Identity, and Human Possibilities in the Freegan Movement.” Barnard earned his master’s from Oxford and working on his Ph.D. from Berkeley.

We are brought up to believe that we must pay for what we want, which makes sense –Work, make money, buy. If you take something that isn’t yours that is stealing and a very accepted belief. What if something is discarded by someone as having no value. Is that yours to take? Freegans work on the idea that there is so much excess in capitalism that there is no need for them to buy anything. Almost forty percent of all food ends up as waste while one in six people in America face hunger. The system is set up to dispose of excess rather than donate or provide charity. Nearly twenty-five percent of all publications end up in the garbage… not donated to libraries or schools. Granted the owner of the property can decide the fate of his property but once he disposes of it, it becomes “public” property to those who wish to retrieve it.

The Freegans in the book are idealists. Many are trapped in the system they want to end and some are dependent on that same system. I do admire the community bike projects where discarded bikes are taken apart and the parts are used to make new bikes. People ride these bikes instead of driving and reusing parts is important. We live in a world of planned obsolescence and cheap manufacturing. We “need” a new cell phone every two years. We “need” the new fashions. We are bombarded day in and day out with reasons to buy something new. The idea of fixing what you have is no longer an acceptable option. Do not repair your clothes, buy new clothes. How many things do we own are no longer repairable?

Capitalism (the enemy in the book) requires growth to survive. When growth does not happen we have a recession or a depression. Recessions end when there is growth and growth is caused by buying new things — cars, houses, appliances. That growth creates jobs which in turn creates more spending and more growth. Sooner or later we run out of areas to grow in and the system stagnates.

Freeganism plays off the “waste” of the system. Supermarkets dispose of massive quantities of still good food. People throw away plenty of still functional items and good clothes that have fallen out of style. Why not put these to use. That is the original idea behind freeganism — don’t buy what is free. None of the people in the book are hungry and none of them are needing clothing. Shelter is taken up by squatting in unused properties. Housing is another bit lightly covered in the book. During the housing crisis banks foreclosed on homes and then bulldozed them over waiting to “grow” new homes.

Marxism sets the definite tone in this book. The problem is instead of explaining the problems of capitalism the people jump at a philosophical Marxist rant. Perhaps the biggest problem about Marxism is the way it is explained. Those explaining try to make it sound extremely philosophical. It’s not just the freegans in the book but almost everyone. Try reading Lukac, for example. The freegans make very valid points but lose much ground in their explanation. Keep it simple and in America, don’t call it Marxism because people think (incorrectly) of Stalin and the Cold War. Change does happen and people do start paying attention. No one would have thought a Jewish Socialist had a chance as a Democratic presidential candidate until last year.

There is some good out of the freegan movement other countries have taken notice. Both England and Italy now have supermarkets donating “waste” to charities. It also opened some eyes. Although not entirely successful in their goals the freegans, like other movements, created awareness of the problem. There is quite a bit of admirable work done by the freegans, unfortunately, in America, their politics harms more than hurts them. That is not a direct criticism of their politics but rather how their politics are viewed by Americans in general.

The book starts to demonstrate the practicality of the freegan movement. I am a bicycle mechanic and I have worked bikes costing over $10,000 and these are not for professional racers, just cyclists looking to spend money. Where I now work there are t-shirts for sale with a company logo printed on them. It will cost you $40 to advertise for that company by wearing their shirt. I can agree the system is warped and definitely has problems with waste, advertising, earnings, poverty, and a host of other problems. I also think the concept of Freegans is a sound one, but one that they overshadow with their politics. It is hard to get people to support your movement if all you do is tell them how wrong they are. Find the similarities like food waste and the hungry. Few people think the poor should starve good food being disposed of because it is not sold might be common ground. I appreciate the idealism. I ride a bike and do not drive. I am a strict vegetarian. I am a minimalist. I see your point, however, inclusion should be the theme.

All in all, this is a good book. The review is political as that is what the book turned to. A sound idea but slightly flawed in execution. Presentation of facts concerning the amount of waste was well done and spread throughout the book. Barnard’s narrative does a good deal to tone down the message of many in the movement.


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Book Review — You can’t bury them all: Poems

You can't bury them all by Patrick Woodcock

You can’t bury them all: Poems by Patrick Woodcock is a collection of geographic and cultural poetry. I will admit that I did not look at the author or his biography before I started reading the other day. The book I had intended to read was corrupted and I grabbed this because it was next on my reader. I started to read and was immediately captured by the sense of realism. I was reading about Kurdistan in a way that Mahmoud Darwish writes about Palestine. The people, cultural, and mannerisms all rang true to my experience in the Middle East in the 1980s. My thoughts were to recommend this collection to a friend in Saudi Arabia who supplies me with poets to read.

Suddenly everything changed. Now the poet is in the frigid Sahtu region of the Northwest Territories. The setting is Fort Good Hope on the Mackenzie River were today in mid-March the temperature is -6 F. I am thinking is this the poet’s emigration? From the barren sand to the barren snow? No, this person lives and lived here most his life. He writes the elders and tells the stories of the land.

I decide to look up the poet’s biography and find it
“Woodcock has spent much of his life as an expatriate, rarely remaining in one locale for an extended period. He has worked as a professor of literature in Ibagué, Colombia, and has lived in countries including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bosnia and Russia. In Canada, he has served as the poetry editor for the Literary Review of Canada, and has taught at SHERIDAN COLLEGE in Oakville, Ont. He currently lives in Iraq.”

Woodcock is a traveler and, more importantly, an observer of other cultures. If a reader picks up any of these three sections, the third being Azerbaijan, he or she would be hard-pressed to realize that the author is not a life long resident of that region. It is difficult to capture one’s own culture in poetry but to capture three so perfectly is amazing. I read the first section with the total conviction I was reading a Kurdish poet. The poems are in an open, narrative form and use enough devices to make the reader think they are listening to a storyteller repeating the stories he has heard.

You can’t bury them all: Poems is a rare collection that will surprise the reader with a story he thinks was authentic and personal. Even the poems on Azerbaijan, once I realized who the poet was, seemed both realistic and first-hand accounts of someone who lived through the Soviet period, recalling the past as well as describing the present. This is the magic that poetry hopes to obtain — To take the reader to a place and visit the historical and personal aspects of events, people, and culture and not realizing the poet is creating everything. A true virtual reality.

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Book Review — Farewell to the World: A History of Suicide

Farewell to the World by Marzio Barbagli

Farewell to the World: A History of Suicide by Marzio Barbagli is a historical look at suicide under its various names and motives. Barbagli is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Bologna.He graduated the University of Florence in 1965 with a final degree in Sociology and has been teaching at universities since 1970.

First, this book is not about the why people choose to die as such. It is a historic and cultural examination of suicide throughout the world. I lost a friend eight years to suicide, the author has lost five, so that is my interest in the subject, but a reader looking for answers of why a loved one took their life will not find it here. This is a scholarly sociological or historical writing backed by a great deal of research.

The book is divided into sections covering the West and Asia — India, China, and the Middle East. In the West, there has been the Christian notion of against suicide based on sloth and ending something God created opposed to the earlier Greek/Roman idea that suicide was the ultimate exercise of freedom. The Middle Ages brought the idea that suicide was also theft. If you were under the protection of a lord and required to work for him and you take your own life, you are in effect stealing from the landowner. Very warped religious ideas also come into play. People who want to die but are afraid of damnation must find a way to end their life by the hands of another. One way was to kill an innocent child. That killing saved the child from a life of sin and sent a perfect soul to heaven. The one who killed the child would be put to death, but with a clean conscience because their death was for saving a child’s soul. The church itself was torn on the concept of suicide. What is the difference between a woman who kills herself as a matter of honor and a martyr? A martyr through his actions chooses to die; an ancient version of suicide by cop. Why should that be honored and the woman condemned.

In the east sati, kamikaze, modern suicide bomber, and the Chinese historical affinity for suicide. The most surprising is that the Chinese were known to kill themselves over small issues, a word one witness said. Chinese workers in the Caribbean had to be guarded to prevent them from taking their own lives singularly and in groups. A great deal of words is also spent on sati, the suicide ritual of a wife taking her life on her husband’s funeral pyre. This tradition shocked and appalled both Christian and Muslim rulers and visitors. Indian women saw this tradition as maintaining faithfulness to their husbands. There also was not much for a widow to live for in historical India. Although times have changed a sati ceremony was stopped by the Indian police in the mid-1980s.

Farewell to the World: A History of Suicide is a well written and researched work. There is a great deal of information and detail including first-hand reports. The depth of the research immense. As a work of history and cultural studies this far exceeds expectations.

This book was not read for a review.


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