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Some Notes on Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

A dinner party in the works; flashbacks to the past; people from the past returning to the present; a soldier who finds society evil; and the decline of an empire all combined into a wonderful and image filled novel with several themes including some thoughts on a relationship (which may have been a direct reflection on the author). The book tackles several temporary controversies and most characters represent a particular issue.

Update from 8/25/2014

I really enjoy Virginia Woolf’s writing and am just going to stick to a few points with this years reading. First there is poetry in her prose. Although Woolf believed prose was her calling but her words tell a different story:

“But there could be no doubt that greatness was seated within; greatness was passing, hidden, down Bond Street, removed only by a hand’s-breadth from ordinary people who might now, for the first and last time, be within speaking distance of the majesty of England, of the enduring symbol of the state which will be known to curious antiquaries, sifting the ruins of time, when London is a grass-grown path and all those hurrying along the pavement this Wednesday morning are but bones with a few wedding rings mixed up in their dust and the gold stoppings of innumerable decayed teeth.”

That is from the scene when near the opening when Mrs Dalloway goes into town for flowers for her party. There is a black car with curtains drawn in the passenger compartment. It causes quite a stir among the people. Who could it be in the car, the queen, the Prince of Wales, the prime minister. The scene is interesting because people clamor about and wonder and hope that it is someone of importance, so that the common person would be with in a hands breadth of greatness. There seems to be almost a circus effect for the people on the street. There almost seems to a bit of mockery in the writing concerning those whose greatness comes from birth.

There is a serious message on post traumatic stress disorder in the character of Septimus. He is a veteran tortured by the war. He lost a friend before the Armistice. Among the very sad aspects of WWI was the rush for commanders to make a name for themselves. With the date and the time of the armistice made official many allied commanders used that last bit of time to risk their troops in land grabs, even though the war for all practical means was over. The eleven hours of November 11, was a needlessly bloody event. Britain honored its dead, but really had no idea what to do with the mentally damaged men when they returned home. Locking them up and isolating them in quiet was the treatment. It was not a cure, but it kept them out of public sight.

Woolf again is not afraid to take on social issues. She does this with the main character Mrs Dalloway too. Atheism is brought up:

“To see your own sister killed by a falling tree (all Justin Parry’s fault–all his carelessness) before your very eyes, a girl too on the verge of life, the most gifted of them, Clarissa always said, was enough to turn one bitter. Later she wasn’t so positive perhaps; she thought there were no Gods; no one was to blame; and so she evolved this atheist’s religion of doing good for the sake of goodness”

Doing good for the sake of goodness has a very positive ring to it, rather than doing good from a fear of eternal punishment. As in Day and Night when, Katerine suggests to her mother that she may just live in a cabin with Ralph instead of getting marriage. Woolf, here too, pushes social norms with Clarissa Dalloway’s love for Sally Seton. Coincidentally, too Catherine’s mother makes an appearance at the Dalloway’s party, at least in name.

I wrote much more than I intended. I also wanted to mention:

1. Age: Fifty is both considered old and the prime of one’s life by different characters.
2. How friends change Sally and Peter
3. Doris Kilman… I want to write more about this particular character.

That will have to wait until next years re-reading of Mrs. Dalloway.

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Book Review: The Assassination of Europe 1918-1942: A Political History

The Assassination of Europe, 1918-1942 by Howard M Sachar

The Assassination of Europe 1918-1942: A Political History by Howard M Sachar is a history of the Interwar Period in Europe. He earned both his masters and PhD from Harvard and was a professor at Georgetown University for forty years. This is Sachar’s seventeenth book on history and political history.

As with a few other people who picked this book up, I was expecting a book on political assassinations. As I started reading the book the assassinations were of leftists and communists. Drawing on the simple black and red cover I thought it was about the anarchist and communist movements in Western Europe. Indeed, post WWI Europe was a dangerous place to be promoting Communism. Then the assassination of Ernst Rohm ended that train of thought. Then there was Trotsky death by Stalin’s order.

The book does center around political assassinations in Europe, but it is more than just that. The peace at the end of the war was going to bring democracy, an end to continental empires, and homelands for the minority populations. The League of Nations was going to ensure peace. The world was going to be entering a new era of peace and prosperity. Those grand ideas did not last. France plundered Germany for war reparations. Fascists rose and took over Italy under Mussolini. Democracies feared leftists and communists. Anti Semitism grew, not just in Germany but also France, Eastern Europe and Russia. Eastern European Jews fled their home countries after WWI and moved West. The influx of Jewish immigrants was seen by many as something to fear. That hatred became a leader in Germany.

In the Soviet Union there is political assassination and the rise and fall of Trotsky. Stalin and his mass political killings. Vichy France and the German collaborators were another blow to democracy and political freedom. Sachar uses individual assassinations to set the stage for a greater assassination: That of a continent. The assassination of Europe was more than just the death of individuals but of the nations and peoples.

The Assassination of Europe is the death of the hope of liberal democracies, peace, and prosperity that men dreamed of after the carnage of WWI. Sachar gives an in depth look in to the undoing of the Europe people wanted. The Great War was not enough to change the governments and selfishness of men. One on one political killing was only the symptom the much bigger problem. An excellent and very scholarly look into the politics of the interwar years.

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Book Review: The Forks Over Knives Plan: How to Transition to the Life-Saving, Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet

The Forks Over Knives Plan by Alona Pulde
<i>The Forks Over Knives Plan: How to Transition to the Life-Saving, Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet</i> by Matthew Lederman and Alona Pulde is a guide to a healthy lifestyle rather than a diet book.  Both authors are medical doctors and have personal biographies at the beginning of the book.  
<i>The Forks Over Knives Plan</i> is the practical application of the lifestyle put forth in the documentary movie of the same name.  The authors make several things very clear in the book.  First and foremost  this is about a lifestyle and not simply a diet.  Second, medical science has come a long way, and doctors can provide pharmaceuticals to get a persons blood pressure and cholesterol number to a safe level.  The problem here is that the symptoms are being treated and not the cause.  Much like taking Nyquil when you have a cold doesn’t cure the cold, but masks the symptoms; you are still sick, but don’t feel as bad.   Third, is the misrepresentation of foods.  For example, calcium and healthy bones are often a reason to consume dairy products.  America has one of the highest rates of dairy consumption and one of the highest rates of fractures.  
<i>The Forks Over Knives Plan</i> helps the reader gradually shift over to a plant based diet by starting with breakfast the first week, adding lunch a week later, and finally dinner.  Many issues on the conversion are answered and common problems are discussed.  Emphasis is put on whole foods and eliminating processed foods and oil from the one’s diet.  The authors explain the problems of processed foods and animal products in a very clear way.  For example, meat and dairy are cited by most  as great sources for calcium.  Where did that calcium from? Answer: Plants.  Meat and dairy calcium came from plants and are used and stored in animals. Obviously, meat and dairy are not a necessary source of calcium.
The second half of the book contains recipes for meals.  They all use common ingredients available in most grocery stores.  The most uncommon item I recall seeing was nutritional yeast.  Recipe sections usually don’t interest me.  I have been a strict vegetarian for almost a decade now, and have my diet pretty well sorted out.  I eat simple.  Starch, beans, and produce make up general diet with produce and spices providing the variety.  Not everyone can eat like this and that is why there is a recipe section.  I did however find a few recipes I am going to try.  The Sloppy Joe Pitas, made with bulgur wheat, instead of meat, sound really good.  The recipes range from common replacements like stews and breakfast burritos to the rather unique like Twice Baked Breakfast Sweet Potatoes. 
<i>The Forks Over Knives Plan</i> is a very user friendly guide to using food as medicine and living a healthy lifestyle.  The guidance and recipes will help the reader make a smooth transition to a plant based diet and remove many of the misconceptions.  There is variety and taste in a plant based diet and its not like many people think.  I often hear “I couldn’t be a vegetarian. I don’t like Tofu.” Tofu is only an ingredient in two of the recipes.  There is more to a plant based diet than tofu. <i>The Forks Over Knives Plan</i> is an excellent start to a better life.

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Book Review: Another Side of Bob Dylan: A Personal History on the Road and off the Tracks

Another Side of Bob Dylan by Victor Maymudes

Another Side of Bob Dylan: A Personal History on the Road and off the Tracks voice recorded by Victor Maymudes and edited and written by Jacob Maymudes.

Victor Maymudes was Bob Dylan’s tour manager for many years and according to Victor a close friend. Jacob is Victor’s son and discovered the audio tapes that this book is based on after a fire destroyed Linda’s, Victor’s mother, home. The house contained many of Victor’s relics from his life on the road. The tapes, however, were in the possession of Jacob’s sister.

The book opens with a sad picture of Victor Maymudes’ ashes (he died in 2001) in the ashes of Linda’s house. Jacob tells of the difficulty and hardship of writing this book and listening to his father’s voice after his death. He laments that his father is been written out of any official Bob Dylan histories. There is a build up that this will be a very touching and personal story.

Victor Maymudes opened the Unicorn Coffee Shop for the beatniks and proto-hippies to hang out at. A clever and successful idea to give this large group of people a place to hang out. Through friends he meets Bob Dylan, and here is when the reader thinks this is going to turn into a Bob Dylan biography. It does for a short time, but quickly turns into a biography about Victor Maymudes. Much of Victor’s stories are about what he did, how smart he was, and what others did wrong. I also realized that there may be some credibility issues with the original author. He smoked massive amounts of marijuana and carried a vial of LSD noting that he shared, but not everyone was up to taking LSD daily like he was. Drugs in rock and roll are pretty common place and still Keith Richards and Gregg Allman wrote coherent autobiographies.

I lost faith in the storytelling early one when Victor tells how he introduced the Beatles to marijuana and told John Lennon to stay away from the pharmaceuticals he was prescribed because they just hid the symptoms. Although nothing else seems to reach that peak of improbability in the book, there is nothing that really restores any credibility. A search on the internet reveals little on Victor Maymudes. His Wikipedia page reads like a book jacket summary and at the bottom of the page is a link to Jacob’s unsuccessful Kickstarter page for this project, but titled Victor Maymudes: Biography. Other links are to this book. It is impossible for the reader to fact check many events.

The title of the book is misleading. It is a Victor Maymudes’ biography. Although he was a friend, possibly a close friend of Bob Dylan, there is not enough connection to consider this book a Dylan biography. Patti Smith had a starring role in her biography of Robert Mapplethorpe, but many people bought the book because of her role and writing. The same cannot be said for Another Side. Victor Maymudes does with this book what he does throughout his life: promote Victor Maymudes. I do feel terrible for Jacob Maymudes for the loss of his father and the conditions of losing him. Jacob seems to be a devoted son and held his father in high esteem. I, however, cannot buy into the book. Sorry.

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Book Review: Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life and Cars

Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life and Cars by Neil Young

Special Deluxe by Neil Young

Anyone who knows me, knows I have a strong dislike for cars. It is not the car but more so the worship of the car. People playout their lives on around cars. Who is driving? Where can we park? How much is parking? How much is gas? We also design our cities and suburbs around cars. Newer housing developments don’t have sidewalks, merely a concrete path from the front door to the curb where you park your car. The corner store and the idea of a self contained neighborhood have disappeared and been replaced by large shopping centers, big box stores, and strip malls. Supporting public transportation is seen as a subsidy, while tearing up tree lined boulevards to add lanes is seen as an investment. So, I was a bit hesitant to pick up this book.

I know Neil Young’s greatest hits and Live Rust from high school where certain crowds would agree with Neil Young’s phrase “It is better to burn out than to rust.” and also quote “Homegrown.” I still know the lyrics to that one. My previous knowledge of his life was fairly limited. Neil Young was a marijuana guy and like Patti Smith found it helped release their creativity. No heroin because the idea is to create and not block or escape life. It’s a cliche, but one I give little argument. In the book Young does mention a copious amount of marijuana smoking, some drinking, and cocaine a few times. He is no Keith Richards in that sense.

Young can tell a story and this storytelling is folksy and personal. He captures a level that the reader feels is almost one on one. It’s like meeting a friend you haven’t seen in thirty years and catching up. Some stories are funny, others are about his career, and some are touching. Compared to some of the other rock star autobiographies I have read Young comes up one top. His stories seem to be more about telling a story, than telling a story about Neil Young.

While I was reading this book a friend emailed and said, did you know Neil Young is getting a divorce? I said, “No, but I am half way through the book and he is on his third wife.” The last half of the book he remained with the third wife (and remained married for thirty-six years). To Young’s credit he never speaks ill of his ex-wives or of marriage problems. He takes the high road, so to speak.

Cars, yes, there is a great deal in this book about cars (and dogs too). Each story centers around a car. The car the family drove to Florida. The car his father got before he left. Young has owned more cars than some towns have. The cars are different though than your typical rock star car collector. There is a Bentley and a few sports cars, but most are old and a bit eccentric: A Jeep pickup truck, an Eldorado Biarritz, plenty of old Buicks. Each car has its own personality some work and some don’t. Some he’s kept and others he sold quickly. Each one, however, has a story. There are watercolor paintings of the cars at the start of each chapter keeping with Youngs thinking of cars an art more than just transportation.

Throughout the book, when a car is mentioned, Young tells the reader the miles per gallon the car got and the number of pounds of CO2 the car released per mile or on an extended trip. Another point to respect about Young is he has become environmentally conscious. He has worked with bio fuels and electric cars, putting a great deal of his own money into the program.

Young is an excellent storyteller and it shows in his writing either in prose or song. Chapters are punctuated with lyrics he wrote at the time of the story. The use of lyrics in the writing helps explain the meaning. Sorry, no answer on who the Cinnamon Girl was. This is perhaps the best autobiography by a musician I have read. I am surprised say, it beats out Patti Smith’s Just Kids, and I really, really like Patti Smith. Young’s style and language communicate to the masses on a personal level. There is no “life of an artist” talk or name dropping. It is storytelling at it’s best. I am very impressed with Special Deluxe, even with the car talk.


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Book Review: A Time Such as There Never Was Before: Canada After the Great War

A Time Such as There Never Was Before by Alan Bowker

A Time Such as There Never Was Before: Canada After the Great War by Alan Bowker is a rich social and political history of Canada following the First World War. Bowker served for thirty-five years in the Canadian foreign service including the position of High Commissioner to Guyana and ambassador to Suriname. He holds a PhD in Canadian history from the University of Toronto and has taught at the Royal Military College.

A bit of a disclaimer on my part: I am a citizen of the United States and looking in from the outside at the country I grew up eighty miles from. I also hold an MA in International relations and find Canadian history something that was sorely lacking in my education. I would also like to thank Dundurn Press for their willingness to let a Yankee review so many of their publications and become a better informed neighbor.

To most Americans, Canada is like our quieter, better behaved brother on the world stage. They speak the same language, share the same common British heritage, and until recently shared the largest open border in the world. There are many similarities in our cultures and many parallels that give us a common ground. Bowker presents Canada’s history after WWI as a unique period of great change and untested waters. For both our countries, WWI brought our nations to adulthood despite our closeness there were different paths taken.

Canada lost more men in WWI than the United States and was involved in the war for a longer period. The war became a shock to the general population. No one expected the mass slaughter. Farmer’s sons volunteered never expecting to be gone for years. As a result, farming suffered in the agricultural giant Canada was becoming. America, only fifty years earlier, experienced its long bloody war and was hesitant to fight another. WWI was a wake up call to Canada and a chance for Canada as a nation to define itself outside the British shadow.

Many changes happened after the war. There was religious growth and change as evangelicalism rose and fell and atheism began emerge. Religious opinion was no longer in unanimous agreement that “khaki was a sacred color”. Race issues began to be more pronounced. Many non-French Canadians viewed Canada as English, many were English, and not open to foreigners. Slavs were not welcome, unless there was a need for farming experts. Immigrants from India were required to make a direct trip from India to Canada. There, however, were no direct trips. It was an indirect way of saying “You are not welcome.” Chinese were restricted. Blacks however avoided much of the persecution as Canada remained proud in its role as the terminus of the Underground Railroad.

The government began to feel opposition to the war in as the body counts rose. French Canadians were vocal in their opposition. The election of 1917 was bitter and rigged. At the end of the war Canada demanded representation at the table in Versailles, no longer content to being just a part of Britain.

The national government was faced with the problem of what to do with the returning veterans. Once the men came back they were demobilized. Discharges were processed at an unbelievable rate. The government worked through several programs appearing to try and do what was needed. An attempt to offer land to the returning soldiers to farm was one plan. There was not room in the workplace for returning soldiers. With the victory, 200,000 civilians employed in the munitions industry found themselves unemployed. There was no “Peace Dividend” for Canada. To compound matters the Spanish Flu devastated nations. Bowker notes that the life expectancy in United States dropped for 54 to 40 as a result of the Spanish Flu.

A Time Such as There Never Was Before condenses a great deal of history into a relatively few pages. The coverage of the interwar period is more Canadian history than most Americans will ever experience. Bowker provides detail with enthusiasm. The Information is written in a clear and stimulating fashion making the history a compelling read. The post WWI years were an exciting and sometimes trying time in Canada. Bowker does an outstanding job bringing this history to life. Highly recommended.


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Book Review: Robert Plant: The Voice that Sailed the Zeppelin

After John Bonham, there was nothing
After John Bonham, there was a void
After John Bonham, there was no going back.

Robert Plant by Dave Thompson

Robert Plant: The Voice that Sailed the Zeppelin by Dave Thompson is a biography the Led Zeppelin’s lead singer, his early life, Led Zeppelin years, and his post Zeppelin work. Thompson has written many books on Rock and Roll and Rock and Roll Stars.

If there was one band as a kid and teenager that I thought was the greatest band in the world, it was Led Zeppelin. If you asked most of my friends “What do you listen to?” the answer would have been, “Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Van Halen (sometimes substituted with AC/DC).” Led Zeppelin was whom we thought of when we thought of Rock and Roll.

Thompson takes the reader back to Robert Plant’s youth and post Zeppelin days in alternating chapters. There is an attempt to bridge the gap of years together, but it does not succeed in doing it smoothly. The author makes John Bonham’s death the center of the timeline, much like the separation of the calendar into BC and AD. Bonham was an important friend and Thompson uses his death to separate Plant’s life into two stages Before Zeppelin and After Zeppelin.

The book is fact-filled to the point of seeming more like a research paper than a biography. It presents factual information on many rumours that have circulated about the band. It also ties Plant’s life closely with Led Zeppelin even after the band broke up. Thompson gives the impression that Plant was trying to escape his previous fame with his newer works. That is believable, but the writing makes it seem like Plant and Zeppelin were Siamese twins, and Plant, at certain levels, could not escape.

I really looked forward to this biography. I thought it would bring back a rush of feelings and that nostalgic feeling of youth I get when I read a Patti Smith or Doors biography. I did not get this feeling here. Perhaps if the book was written in chronological order there would be a sense growth and shifting views in Plant’s life. Instead, there is a switching between “This is Led Zeppelin” and “This is not Led Zeppelin.” A good portion of the book covers the post Led Zeppelin life of Plant. I knew a few of the albums; Now and Zen and The Honey Drippers, and his work with Alison Krauss, but much of his later work was news to me. His anti-war message was drowned out by others like Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen who have kept more of a social voice to their music. Although thirty-five or so years later, I still have a great appreciation for the Led Zeppelin and individually, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham. Their music was an important part of my growing up, I just wish this biography could have been more alive with the magic of the music and less impassive.

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