Category Archive 'Books'
02 Aug 2016

New Garrison Book

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EverettGarrison
Everett Garrison, 1893-1975

Everett Garrison was an exceptionally-admired maker of custom split cane fly rods. Trained as an engineer, Garrison designed his rods using rigorous mathematical stress formulae. He produced relatively few rods. His total lifetime production is estimated as around 650. But his strikingly simple aesthetics and their superior function made Garrison’s rods popular with the angling community centered around Wall Street and the Anglers Club of New York City. Garrison rods are much in demand and fetch extraordinary prices, these days ranging close to five figures for the most desirable and perfect examples.

The Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum has a collection of letters to Garrison, which have recent been edited into book form by Kathy Scott. There is an introduction by Hoagy Carmichael.

The book is not currently on Amazon, and the Center does not have a functioning book sale web-page. I guess the only thing one can do is send them an email to ask the price.

UPDATE:

I tried phoning again: (845) 439-4810, and got through. It’s only $20 with shipping, and they do take credit cards.

01 Aug 2016

Recommended Reading

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StPauls
St. Paul’s

What with the rebellion of the low-information voter and the ascent of Donald Trump, the white working class is in the news a lot these days and everyone is reading J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (previously mentioned here), a personal eulogy from an upwardly-mobile ex-Marine to his rust-bucket hometown and left-behind family and friends.

The perfect counterpoint book to read, I think, is Shamus Rahman Khan’s Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School.

J.D. Vance describes how History and Culture have failed our society’s losers.

Shamus Rahman Khan describes, with a mixture of astonishment and congratulatory applause, just how one of the absolutely snobbiest and most expensive secondary boarding schools in America (the place that educated John Kerry and Doonesbury’s Gary Trudeau) educates future winners in a combination of graceful personal ease, the ability to fake your way through anything you don’t actually know, and a nihilistic belief in the complete equality of all things (excluding only your own special elite status).

St. Paul’s often touts its academic program as the best in the nation. In its advertising literature, the school boasts that it has “the highest level of scholarship” and that its “students stand at the top of their peer group in terms of academic preparation.” And according to eager administrators and lackadaisical adolescents alike, the centerpiece of St. Paul’s academic program is undoubtedly the humanities. The humanities program introduces students to the history, literature, and thoughts of different moments in world history. The humanities division describes in some project is an interdisciplinary, multi-vocal investigation of “great questions.” …

This program, significantly, does not teach students to know “things.” The emphasis is not on memorizing historical events, for example. Instead it is on cultivating “habits of mind,” which encourage a particular way of relating both to the world and to each other. …

The enormity of this program is both thrilling and terrifying. The thought of knowing all of that, being swept up and carried through the tide of history, is tantalizing. It is also the product of St. Paul’s hubris. How can any one person possibly teach everything..? As I prepared to teach my own class at the school, I soon found out that I was asking the wrong question. Of course the expectations were ridiculous. No high schooler could ever learn all that the course offers. The more important question, I eventually realized, is much harder to answer: what this mean to present material in this way to teenagers?

Perhaps the point is not really to know anything. The advantage the St. Paul’s installs instills in its students is not a hierarchy of knowledge. As we have seen, knowledge is no longer the exclusive domain of the elite. And these days, information flows so freely that to use it to exclude others is increasingly challenging. By contrast, the important decisions required for those who lead are not based on knowing more but instead are founded in habits of mind. St. Paul’s teaches that everything can be accomplished through these habits, even while still in high school. What strikes me as presumptuous, even shocking, about this vision of the world is taken for granted by pretty much every teenager at St. Paul’s.

Though I marveled at how impossible it seemed to teach students all these things, the school itself seems largely unconcerned about this. Indeed, St. Paul’s approach seems closer to Plato’s outline of education in Republic. Building upon his famous cave metaphor, Plato tells us, “Education isn’t what some people declare it to be, namely putting knowledge of the souls that lack it, like putting sight into blind eyes …” ..In short, education is not teaching students things they don’t know. Rather it is teaching them to think their way through the world. …

“I don’t actually know much,” an alumnus told me after he finished his freshman year at Harvard. “I mean, well, I don’t know how to put it. When I’m in classes all these kids next to me know a lot more than I do. Like about what actually happened in the Civil War. Or what France did in World War II. I don’t know any of that stuff. But I know something they don’t. It’s not facts or anything. It’s how to think. That’s what I learned in humanities.”

“What do you mean how to think?” I asked.

“I mean I learned how to think bigger. Like everyone else at Harvard knew about the Civil War. I didn’t. But I knew how to make sense of what they knew about the Civil War and apply it. So they knew a lot about particular things. I knew how to think about everything.”

The emphasis of the St. Paul’s curriculum is not on “what you know” but on “how you know it.” Teaching ways of knowing rather than teaching the facts themselves, St. Paul’s is able to endow its students with marks of the elite –ways of thinking or relating to the world– that ultimately help make up privilege. As the exclusionary practices of old the become unsustainable, something new has emerged from within the elite. …

[S]tudents learn to consume from an enormous variety of sources. They learn to work and “interact” with art, literature, history, from the popular to the scholarly, and have a huge range of materials their disposal. For example, one of the major assignments in Humanities III is to compare “Beowulf” to Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws.” Students are asked to think about the ways in which Beowulf is a monster [Beowulf is the hero. Grendel is the monster. –JDZ] that man must confront, just as “Jaws”‘s monster prowls the waters of humanity (and perhaps even our own internal waters [And the BS keeps on flowing. –JDZ]). The goal is not to endow the students with a kind of highbrow elite knowledge. Rather, they are taught to move with ease to the broad range of culture, to move with felicity from the elite to the popular. They learn to be cultural egalitarians. The lesson to students is that you can talk about “Jaws” in the same way you can talk about “Beowulf.” Both become cultural resources to draw upon. And most important, the world is available to you –from high literature to horror films. They’re not things that are “off-limits” –limits are not structured by the relations of the world around you; they are in you. Students are not to stand above the mundane, perhaps lowbrow horror flick. Instead they are taught the importance of engaging with all aspects of culture, of treating the high and low with respect and serious engagement. As our future elite, the students are taught not to create fences and moats but instead to relentlessly engage with the varied world around them.

The consequences of St. Paul’s philosophy can be seen all over campus, evident even in how students carry themselves. Students have the sense that they could do it. The world is a space to be navigated and renegotiated, not a set of arrangements or a list of rules that are imposed upon you. The students are taught that they are special, and they begin to realize this specialness. This is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy –thinking everything is possible just might make it so.

30 Jul 2016

No Amazon Back Then

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bookstoremosks1935mcny

Alexis C. Madrigal, in the Atlantic, describes reading about the astonishing impact of the Paperback Revolution.

I’m reading a fascinating book called Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America, published in 1984 by the popular historian Kenneth C. Davis. …

I was absolutely dumbfounded by his description of the publishing business in 1931. He draws on a “landmark survey of publishing practices” carried out by one Orin H. Cheney, a banker, as a service to the National Association of Book Publishers.

Among the normal complaints about book publishers selection processes, we find this staggering stat about the retail business of selling books (emphasis added).

“In the entire country, there were only some four thousand places where a book could be purchased, and most of these were gift shops and stationary stores that carried only a few popular novels,” Davis writes. “In reality, there were but five hundred or so legitimate bookstores that warranted regular visits from publishers’ salesmen (and in 1931 they were all men). Of these five hundred, most were refined, old-fashioned ‘carriage trade’ stores catering to an elite clientele in the nation’s twelve largest cities.”

Furthermore, two-thirds of American counties — 66 percent! — had exactly 0 bookstores. It was a relatively tiny business centered in the urban areas of the country. Did some great books come out back then? Of course! But they were aimed only at the tiny percentage of the country that was visible to publishers of the time: sophisticated urban elites. It wasn’t that people couldn’t read; by 1940, UNESCO estimated that 95 percent of adults in America were literate. No, it’s just that the vast majority of adults were not considered to be part of the cultural enterprise of book publishing. People read stuff (the paper, the Bible, comic books), just not what the publishers were putting out.

I’m old enough to remember all this first-hand.

When I was a boy, the only books for sale in our town consisted of one short shelf of children’s book series (Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, Bobbsey Twins, Happy Hollisters) and classics intended for kids (Treasure Island, Huckleberry Finn, Robinson Crusoe, Black Beauty, Little Women) at Hook’s, our local greeting card and gift shop plus one revolving metal rack of paperbacks, Mickey Spillaine, James M. Cain, Erskine Caldwell, invariably featuring some partially-unclothed bosomy blonde.

I was about 8-years-old when I was surprised to find a brand-new rack of paperbacks near the checkout counter in Newberry’s Five-and-Ten-Cent Store on North Main. I made my first personal book purchase that day, buying Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for 45 cents.

Books were extremely difficult to obtain. I exhausted the resources of the Shenandoah Library, and would take buses to search the libraries in Pottsville and Jim Thorpe. I once walked five miles each way, over the mountain to Ringtown to pick up a Life of Washington someone offered me for free. (Rather a cornball story, but true).

Four or five years later, a paperback bookstore opened next to the Strand Movie Theater on South Main, and my self-education via the Signet Classics was off and running. I read fast and obsessively and when I entered college, I had already read a lot more than your typical Ivy League graduate.

I still accumulate books obsessively, and my wife and I own so many that we have to maintain two storage facilities outside the home to house them all.

My guess is that even provincial autodidacts in future will never be so obsessed with book acquisition and ownership as myself. The Paperback Revolution delivered quite a lot of the literature of the world into my hands for only a small price. Today, the Internet can deliver most books published before 1925 in eBook form absolutely free.

No one will ever need to buy a great big set of Dickens or of the Waverly Novels any more. They are all right there, just a few mouse clicks away.

15 Jul 2016

At Least She Has Not Hanged Herself So Far…

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HelenDeWitt
Helen DeWitt

Helem DeWitt’s first novel, The Last Samurai, made a big splash when it was published, but the author had publishing problems. Time has gone by, and she is not yet rich. In fact, she is so broke that she is struggling with a dying laptop she cannot afford to replace, and when she tried to donate a second time to Bernie Sanders recently, her credit card was declined.

Christian Lorentzen, describes the author’s hard luck story in New York Magazine, reprinted by Vulture:

The Last Samurai was a sensation even before it appeared. The toast of the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1999, with rights sold to more than a dozen countries, the novel came out in 2000 to wide acclaim, sold in excess of 100,000 copies in English, and was nominated for several prizes. But for DeWitt, this was the beginning of a long phase of turmoil that still hasn’t abated. The book’s success was marred by an epic battle with a copy editor involving large amounts of Wite-Out; typesetting nightmares having to do with the book’s use of foreign scripts; what she describes as “an accounting error” that resulted in her owing the publisher $75,000 when she thought the publisher owed her $80,000; the agonies of obtaining permissions for the many outside works quoted in the novel, including Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai — which was the title of The Last Samurai until it was deemed legally impossible. …

When DeWitt talks about her artistic breakthroughs, she has a way of quickly turning to her travails with the publishing industry. “Of course, at that point I had never talked to an agent, so I had never had the kind of conversation where you have some hotshot agent saying, ‘No publisher will allow that.’ ” DeWitt had earlier compared publishing to the pharmaceutical industry: The way drug companies suppress negative trial results in her view is similar to the way agents’ and editors’ failed deals are never reported, nor the way they stifle literary talent in the cradle. “There could be all these people out there having these ideas and being told, ‘No, no, no, no.’ ”…

DeWitt has a keen interest in David Foster Wallace. The two writers have some important things in common: a rigorous academic background, an aesthetic of fracture, suicide as subject matter. She believes that if all had gone as smoothly as it could have with the publication of The Last Samurai, it would have been in the cohort of Infinite Jest. I took this to mean that she would have been considered a rival to Wallace and Jonathan Franzen for the unofficial title of Greatest American Novelist of Her Generation. Instead she sees herself as a writer who hasn’t yet fully emerged. “Plato did not have an editor,” she said. “Plenty of writers that we admire struggled along somehow without the help of Michael Pietsch,” referring to the editor of Infinite Jest. But it seemed to me that for all she had against the publishing world, DeWitt was still looking for a savior to rescue her — not unlike Ludo looking for a father. She disagreed: All she needed was a competent partner to put her books out without screwing them up and to pay her an advance she could survive on. (She had nice things to say about New Directions, but its advances are small.)

27 Jun 2016

Hunting From the Other Side

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CharlesFoster

Charles Foster is a modern incarnation of the madly eccentric British naturalist, traveller and explorer. He teaches Medical Law & Ethics at Oxford, is a Barrister, and is a qualified veterinary surgeon.

In his latest book, Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide, Foster has a go at living as a badger, an otter, an urban fox, a red deer and a swift. Frank Buckland would be proud.

Outside Magazine excerpts Foster’s account of being hunted, like a red deer, by one of Britain’s bloodhound packs.

I was behaving very much like a hunted deer. My adrenals were pumping out cortisol and adrenaline. The cortisol made me taut. (The next day its immunosuppressive effect threw open the drawbridge of my throat to an invading virus.) Blood was diverted from my gut to my legs. Though I was slumping from the effort, I’d stop from time to time, hold my head up high, and reflexively sniff. If I’d had mobile ears they’d have pricked and swiveled. Though I looked for water, as deer do, to cool me and to send my scent spiraling away, I ran on the driest ground I could find. I knew (from well before birth, rather than because I’d read books and watched hounds) that dry earth doesn’t hold scent well, or, if it holds it, hugs the particles close, leaving few for snuffling noses.

Unlike a deer, though, I longed to be out of the wood. It’s often very difficult for staghounds to push deer into the open. Sometimes it takes hours. The deer double back, lie flat in deep cover, and saber-rattlingly confront hounds rather than breaking out.

It would have made sense for me to stay in the wood. Scent bounces off trees like balls in a pinball machine and eddies like the dark, curd-coated corners of the East Lyn River. It’s hard for even the most educated nose to read it there. Out in the open, there’s a slime trail of scent through the grass. It points in the direction of the prey.

My preference for the open was therefore strange. I suppose we want to die where we’ve evolved, just as an overwhelming majority of people say that they’d prefer to die at home.

Read the whole thing.

What can I say other than: “Lieu in, hounds! Hunt him up! Tear him and eat him!”?

20 Jun 2016

New Secret Service Memoir Reveals

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HillarywithGun
Secret Service memoir portrays a Hillary unknown to the public.

The New York Daily News served up some pretty juicy tidbits from the new Secret Service tell-all, Gary J. Byrne’s Crisis of Character.

Apparently, Hillary wasn’t the only woman publicly humiliated by Bill Clinton’s philanderings.

[Bill Clinton’s] relationship [with former Vice President Mondale’s daughter Eleanor] really set Lewinsky off, making her jealous and reckless, he writes.

On Dec. 6, 1997, the former intern arrived at the White House gate under the pretense of visiting with the president’s personal secretary. The Secret Service officers guarding the gate understood the special relationship the two had and that Lewinsky had arrived to see the president.

Only this time, Lewinsky was denied entry, according to Byrne, who was stationed elsewhere when she appeared but heard her arrival on his service radio.

“The president is still with another appointment,” Clinton secretary Betty Currie told the gate officer, who relayed the message to Lewinsky.

“Monica, however, still regarded herself quite favorably as the president’s singular mistress. So now she was pissed off. She pressed the officer about the delay and wanted to know why she was left standing in his security booth. He lashed back,” writes Byrne, who was later told of the exchange by a colleague.

“You have to wait. He’s with his other piece of a–. Wait till he’s finished,” the officer told her.

It was clear to all, including Lewinsky, that the president was “screwing with Eleanor in the Oval Office.”

Irate, Lewinsky responded with an unseemly gesture, toward her body, “What’s he want with her when he has this?”

Meanwhile, as Hillary campaigns for the presidency with an emphasis on Gun Control, Byrne’s new Secret Service memoir reveals what no one would ever had guessed: Hillary likes shooting guns and can handle a Thompson sub-machine gun. (!)

What if [the first lady] ran into the president with Monica or with another mistress? Would I have to protect the president from his irate wife — or even from a mistress?” Byrne writes.

And dealing with the first lady’s anger was no small matter, according to Byrne, who describes her as a self-centered, tantrum-throwing, physical abuser.

She also knew how to handle a gun. Byrne found Hillary Clinton took a “surprising liking to firearms, especially a Thompson submachine gun, an original and an American classic, Al Capone’s legendary ‘Chicago typewriter.’”

Sometime after Bill’s 1998 impeachment, and long after Byrne left the White House, the Clintons came by a Secret Service training center and Byrne saw “Mrs. Clinton let loose a spray of man-stopping .45 -caliber rounds into the paper, dirt, and berms of our outdoor one-way range.” Smiling, she fired her next shots “right into the target’s crotch.”

Byrne says the Secret Service discussed the potential for “domestic violence” between the Clintons and worried frequently about how to protect the president from his volcanic — and occasionally violent — wife.

09 Jun 2016

Reading Lists

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TRReading
Theodore Roosevelt Reading

Intellectual Takeout tells us that the LA Times recently asked The Donald what he was currently reading. Trump identified a book about Hillary, whose title he could not remember, which he was obviously reading for purposes of opposition research, and another book, whose author and title he couldn’t name, that he’s reading presumably in search of a role model.

I’m reading the Ed Klein book on Hillary Clinton,” Trump answered, without specifying which one — Klein has written two, “The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She’ll Go to Become President” and “Unlikeable: The Problem with Hillary.”

Trump then said that he’s reading a book about Richard Nixon, but was unable to recall the title or author, telling Wolff, ‘[W]ell, I’ll get you the exact information on it.’”

Politico asked Hillary the same question back in 2014, and Hillary had a perfectly-considered list all ready, one belle-lettres title establishing her intellectual cred, one PC title demonstrating her attention to diversity authors, and one best-seller thriller assuring the common people that she reads trash, too, just like them, as well:

‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt; ‘Mom & Me & Mom’ by Maya Angelou; and ‘Missing You’ by Harlan Coben.”

To see how far the American leadership class declined in a just over a century, compare the reading list Teddy Roosevelt shared with Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler in 1903:

The History of the Peloponnesian War Thucydides
The Histories Herodotus
The Histories Polybius
Plutarch’s Lives Plutarch
Oresteia Trilogy Aeschylus
Seven Against Thebes Aeschylus
Hippolytus Euripides
The Bacchae Euripides
Frogs Aristophones
Politics Aristotle
Early Age of Greece William Ridgeway
Alexander the Great Benjamin Ide Wheeler
History of Egypt, Chaldæa, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria Gaston Maspero
Chronicles Froissart
The Memoirs of Baron de Marbot Baron de Marbot
Charles XII and the Collapse of the Swedish Empire Robert Nisbet Bain
Types of Naval Officers AT Mahan
Critical and Historical Essays Thomas Macaulay
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Edward Gibbon
The Life of Prince Eugene Prince Eugene of Savoy
Life of Lieut.-Admiral De Ruyter G Grinnell-Milne
Life of Sobieski John Sobieski
Frederick the Great Thomas Carlyle
Abraham Lincoln: A History Hay and Nicolay
Speeches and Writings Abraham Lincoln
The Essays Francis Bacon
Macbeth Shakespeare
Twelfth Night Shakespeare
Henry IV Shakespeare
Henry the Fifth Shakespeare
Richard II Shakespeare
Paradise Lost John Milton
Poems Michael Drayton
Nibelungenlied Anonymous
Inferno Dante (prose translastion by Carlyle)
Beowulf (Samuel H. Church translation)
Heimskringla: Lives of the Norse Kings Snorri Sturluson
The Story of Burnt Njal (George Dasent translation)
Gisli the Outlaw (George Dasent translation)
Cuchulain of Muirthemne (Lady Gregory translation)
The Affected Young Ladies Moliere
The Barber of Seville Gioachino Rossini
The Kingis Quair James I of Scotland
Over the Teacups Oliver Wendell Holmes
Shakespeare and Voltaire Thomas Lounsbury
Sevastopol Sketches Leo Tolstoy
The Cossacks Leo Tolstoy
With Fire and Sword Henryk Sienkiewicz
Guy Mannering Sir Walter Scott
The Antiquary Sir Walter Scott
Rob Roy Sir Walter Scott
Waverly Sir Walter Scott
Quentin Durward Sir Walter Scott
Marmion Sir Walter Scott
The Lay of the Last Minstrel Sir Walter Scott
The Pilot James Fenimore Cooper
Tom Sawyer Mark Twain
The Pickwick Papers Charles Dickens
Nicholas Nickleby Charles Dickens
Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray
The History of Pendennis William Makepeace Thackeray
The Newcomes William Makepeace Thackeray
The Adventures of Philip William Makepeace Thackeray
The White Company Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Charles O’Malley Charles Lever
Poems John Keats
Poems Robert Browning
Poems Edgar Allan Poe
Poems Lord Alfred Tennyson
Poems Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Poems Rudyard Kipling
Poems Bliss Carman
Tales Edgard Allan Poe
Essays James Russell Lowell
Complete Stories Robert Louis Stevenson
British Ballads William Allingham
The Simple Life Charles Wagner
The Rose and the Ring William Makepeace Thackeray
Fairy Tales Hans Andersen
Grimm’s Fairy Tales Grimm Bros
The Story of King Arthur Howard Pyle
Complete Tales of Uncle Remus Joel Chandler Harris
The Woman Who Toils Bessie Van Vorst
The Golden Age Kenneth Grahame
All on the Irish Shore Somerville & Ross
Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. Somerville & Ross
Asia and Europe Meredith Townsend
Youth: A Narrative Joseph Conrad
Works Artemus Ward
Stories of a Western Town Octave Thanet
My Reminiscences of the Anglo-Boer War Ben Viljoen
Through the Subarctic Forest Warburton Pike
Cross Country with Horse and Hound Frank Sherman Peer
Ways of Nature John Burroughs
The Real Malay Frank Swettenham
Gallops David Gray
Napoleon Jackson Ruth Stuart
The Passing of Thomas Thomas Janvier
The Benefactress Elizabeth von Arnim
People of the Whirlpool Mabel Osgood Wright
Call of the Wild Jack London
The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come John Fox
The Captain of the Gray-Horse Troop Hamlin Garland
The Gentleman from Indiana Booth Tarkington
The Crisis Winston Churchill
John Ermine of the Yellowstone Frederic Remington
The Virginian Owen Wister
Red Men and White Owen Wister
Philosophy 4 Owen Wister
Lin McLean Owen Wister
The Blazed Trail Stewart Edward White
Conjuror’s House Stewart Edward White
The Claim Jumpers Stewart Edward White
American Revolution George Otto Trevelyan

02 Jun 2016

New Edition of “Storm of Steel”

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ErnstJunger
Ernst Jünger (1895-1998)

Karl Marlantes (Y ’67), who served as an officer in the Marine Corps, received the Navy Cross, and wrote perhaps the best Vietnam War novel, is pretty much the ideal choice to write the introduction for the new Penguin Classics edition of Ernst Jünger’s WWI memoir Storm of Steel.

[L]ike Jünger, who observed the stream of colored flares, I can appreciate that, borrowing a phrase from Yeats, there is a terrible beauty about war, even though I’m not a born warrior. I remember watching enemy tracers seeming to float into the night sky over Laos, seeking to down one of our airplanes, in much the same way I’d watch fireworks. I remember even being enthralled, late in my tour when I’d been transferred to an air ob­server squadron, by green tracers flying by both windows of our OV-10 as we dived firing, head to head with an NVA antiaircraft gun. Jünger sees the beauty—it’s everywhere in his memoir—and perhaps you will see it too. This doesn’t need to change how you judge war; coral snakes and tsunamis are beautiful too.

Jünger writes about many things other than combat, but all take us into the trenches as he saw them. He writes about fear and panic. He writes about nature—about having to live outside, just like a wild animal, in all of nature’s cruelty and beauty. He writes about the code of honor and manliness that engenders mutual respect be­tween soldiers on opposite sides of the battle, as when he encoun­tered a young British officer just before Christmas during a poignant temporary truce that unfortunately went bad:

    We did, though, say much to one another that betokened an almost sportsmanlike admiration for the other, and I’m sure we should have liked to exchange mementoes.

At another point he writes:

    Throughout the war, it was always my endeavour to view my opponent without animus, and to form an opinion of him as a man on the basis of the courage he showed.

And he writes about the understated and often gallows humor that goes hand in hand with the code of honor and manliness. I remember in Vietnam a kid waiting to be medevaced, gasping for air because he’d taken a bullet through one lung, saying, “You know, sir, it ruined my whole day.” Jünger often uses such humor:

    We suffered many casualties from the over-familiarity engendered by daily encounters with gunpowder. My dugout was somewhat changed as well . . . the British had fumigated it with a few hand-grenades. We were so abundantly graced with trench mortars . . .

In another scene, Jünger describes a fierce skirmish with Indi­an soldiers from the First Hariana Lancers:

    With only twenty men we had seen off a detachment several times larger, and attacking us from more than one side, and in spite of the fact that we had orders to withdraw if we were outnumbered. It was precisely an engagement like this that I’d been dreaming of during the longueurs of positional warfare.

I’d have been dreaming of my high school girlfriends.

“These short expeditions,” Jünger writes, “where a man takes his life in his hands, were a good means of testing our mettle and interrupting the monotony of trench life. There’s nothing worse for a soldier than boredom.” I would say homesickness, hunger, hypothermia, getting gassed, gangrene, and trench foot, not to mention getting killed or maimed, would all be worse than boredom. But Jünger was different.

Read the whole thing.

30 May 2016

Nominated To Succeed Downton Abbey

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GeorgetteHeyer
Georgette Heyer

Now that Downton Abbey is over, The Anchoress urges Julian Fellowes to try adapting for television the Regency Romances of Georgette Heyer (particular favorites of my wife Karen’s).

Consider, if you will The Convenient Marriage, a hilarious page-turner in which the brash, barely-out-of-the-schoolroom Miss Horatia Winwood solves her elder sister’s inconvenient-but-dutiful engagement to the notoriously self-contained Earl of Rule by showing up at his house and offering herself in exchange. As the Earl and his young bride work some of the most counter-intuitive moves imaginable in order to seduce each other into an authentic marriage, the peripheral characters romp through this story like Georgian Marx Brothers, pulling noses, inspiring blue-wigged macaronis to call them out, taking to the High Toby with a brilliantly wrought cockney thief, and stumbling into abduction scenes they’ve mistaken for card parties. Please bring these people to life for us!

And while you’re at it, please consider allowing us to meet The Grand Sophy — part Mary Poppins, part Annie Oakley — the irrepressible horsewoman and diplomat who keeps a small, ladylike gun in her handmuff and an Italian Greyhound beneath her skirts. Please produce four nights of False Colors and have Kit Fancot travel from Vienna to London on a hunch that his twin is in trouble, so we can delight in his flighty “charming peagoose” of a mother, and her ardent, indulgent and fearfully fat cicisbeo, Sir Bonamy. And if your taste in some season is running toward darker stories, please allow us to watch the Duke of Avon and his abused-but-valiant French ward (think Audrey Tautou!) wend their way through the fascinating and disturbing tale of These Old Shades! Show us how an unattractive heroine, married as part of A Civil Contract, manages to persevere and win everything by means of her simple human decency.

18 May 2016

New Casanova

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CasanovaMengs
Anton Raphael Mengs, Giacomo Casanova, 1760, Current Location Unknown

David Coward celebrates the appearance of the Gallimard’s Pléiade first three volumes of a new, unexpurgated and annotated (French language) edition of the 12-volume memoirs of the 18th Century most renowned “Man of the World” in the Times Literary Supplement.

Casanova’s detailed recollections of half a century of restless activity is one of literature’s frankest and most honest self-portraits. He was not without vanity but in his writing he is open about his qualities and failings. He emerges as a man of many contradictions: a freethinker and staunch Catholic, a sceptical rationalist and a practising necromancer, a free spirit and establishment boot-licker, a man of principle and an opportunist, a scoundrel, a snob, both coward and hero, at ease with persons of every class, generous, mean, clever and stupid, a cheat who was gullible, a con man who was easily fooled.

If his bouncing optimism makes him such an engaging picaro, his observant eye and openness to experience qualify him to be an exceptional witness to the world of the Enlightenment. Casanova was comfortable with himself and at home wherever he went. Rome, Vienna, Prague and Paris were stops on a circuit frequented by the same church dignitaries, ambassadors and bankers, the same travelling merchants, actors and singers and the same cast of itinerant scoundrels, prostitutes and outcasts. His Europe was cosmopolitan vertically and horizontally, a permanent travelling circus where high and low rubbed elbows in the same salons, gambling houses, theatres and bagnios. His stamina was phenomenal and not limited to his endless machinations and amours. He crisscrossed Europe from Venice to Moscow to Paris and Madrid covering many thousands of miles in unsprung, unheated coaches on unmade roads at 6 miles an hour. A modest day’s travel in a carriage meant five or six hours’ trundling towards a night’s lodging in a flea-bitten inn. Yet he loved to travel. Travel offered adventure, new sights, the chance of meeting new people and, not least, time to keep up with his reading. In 1759, in a chaise from Paris to Amiens, for example, he read d’Holbach’s deterministic essay, De l’Esprit. He did not think much of it.

Intellectual curiosity and an appetite for books led him to an eclectic view of the world derived from writers ancient (from which he quoted constantly) and modern. He drew his moral ideas from Horace and Pierre Gassendi, and his rational view of God’s universe from Locke, Newton and their Enlightenment successors. He never developed a philosophy of his own, but was quick to see the flaws in the philosophies of others. He told Voltaire to his face that his war on superstition was wrong-headed: teach a man to believe in nothing and he will, as Chesterton would later observe, believe in anything. Rare among his contemporaries, he saw that Rousseau was a masochist who planned a world tailored to suit his failings. Politically, he loved kings, but conceded that whatever the regime the common people invariably suffer. He loathed the French Revolution, which destroyed his world, and hated the violent terrorist Robes­pierre whom he regarded as the fundamentalist spawn of the disturbed “visionary”, Rousseau.

15 May 2016

Why We Like Raymond Chandler

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farewell-my-lovely-001

“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”

-― Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely

08 Apr 2016

Help Crowdfund Claire Berlinski’s Next Book

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Berlinski
Claire Berlinski

Claire Berlinski is a Balliol College graduate, who started her literary career by writing a spy novel featuring the kind of details of the CIA’s recruiting and training that persuade this reader that she is really a former spook.

A few years later, she had moved on to international journalism, covering European problems from a sophisticated perch at the continental crossroads in Constantinople. When the situation in Turkey deteriorated, she demonstrated her intelligence by moving to Paris.

These days, the old-school publishing industry is perishing because technology has made self-publishing, promotion, and distribution feasible, so it is not possible even for an accomplished and respected writer to get a book advance to cover travel and operating expenses for a project. Claire Berlinski (clever girl!), who writes most frequently these days at the group blog Ricochet, therefore, decided to try crowdfunding her next book.

Her pitch is here.

Her funding site is here.

The funding project has also been endorsed by the great Glenn Reynolds.

28 Mar 2016

Jim Harrison (1937-2016)

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Jim-Harrison
Harrison looked like one of those European mastiffs, so ugly that he was beautiful.

Jim Harrison, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 78, was for my money the best living American writer of fiction. Jim Harrison wrote simply, elegantly, and perceptively about real Americans, the out-of-doors, and what the Japanese refer to as “the immortal questions.” He was prolific: 21 books of fiction and 14 of poetry, and, with the help of a loan of $15,000 from Jack Nicholson early in his writing career that gave him time to complete the break-through collection of novellas which sold some screenplays, successful enough to support a life-style which included flying to Paris to have lunch, extreme oenophilia with an emphasis on Burgundies, and a kitchen larder loaded with caviar and pâté.

Jim Harrison could step gracefully from writing violent escapist fantasies to serious, meditative novels focused on love, guilt, aging, and la condition humaine. He did not like being compared to Ernest Hemingway, but the comparison was an obvious one. Like Hemingway, Jim Harrison was a masculine writer, sophisticated and intellectual, but fundamentally and always an outdoorsman. Like Hemingway, Harrison was a romantic and a stoic, whose fiction was preoccupied with acute and intelligent observation in the course of living up to a demanding and aristocratic code.

The novelist Thomas McGuane was Harrison’s classmate at Michigan State, and Jim Harrison was himself the most distinguished representative of a group of rural, huntin’, fishin’, and shootin’ writers, basically at odds with the contemporary urban community of fashion culture, which included McGuane, Russell Chatham, Guy de la Valdène, and Steve Bodio.

The New York Times obit has some great anecdotes:

His food writing, much of which first appeared in Esquire, was collected in his 2001 book, “The Raw and the Cooked,” whose title invokes the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’s volume of that name. Mr. Lévi-Strauss’s book is about myth and ritual. Mr. Harrison’s is about rituals that include his flying to France for the sole purpose of having lunch — a lunch that spanned 11 hours, 37 courses and 19 wines. …

At bottom, Mr. Harrison was not so much like Hemingway as he was like something out of Hemingway. Or, more accurately, something out of Rabelais — a mustachioed, barrel-chested bear of a man whose unapologetic immoderation encompassed a dazzling repertory:

There was the eating. Mr. Harrison once faced down 144 oysters, just to see if he could finish them. (He could.)

There was the drinking. One fine summer, he personally tested 38 varieties of Côtes du Rhône. (“It was like a small wine festival. Just me, really,” he told The Washington Post afterward.) …

All these ingredients were titanically encapsulated in a dinner Mr. Harrison once shared with Orson Welles, which involved, he wrote, “a half-pound of beluga with a bottle of Stolichnaya, a salmon in sorrel sauce, sweetbreads en croûte, a miniature leg of lamb (the whole thing) with five wines, desserts, cheeses, ports” and a chaser of cocaine.

He will be missed.

26 Feb 2016

How To Tell If You’re In a Flannery O’Connor Story

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flannery-oconnor

From The Toast:

You are over 75 and you hate every person you’ve ever met, or else you’re 14 and you’ve just seen something horrible. …

At least one of your front teeth is missing, and you think you look marvelous.

Something dreadful happened at the rest stop. …

Ever since you returned from the North, you take enormous pride in being both unmarried and ugly. …

None of the children you know have been bathed in the last week.

You are sitting on public transportation across from a total stranger. It is obvious to everyone onboard that he hates you. …

You are indifferent to the murder you’ve just committed.

Your relationship with your adult children is fraught and unpleasant, possibly because of the Civil War.

You are trying to get to Atlanta.

In Retrospect, We Shouldn’t Have Pulled the Car Over

You suspect a Baptist is lying to you. …

Everyone who moved to town before you is a saint.

Everyone who moved to town after you is a scourge.

A close relative was horribly disfigured in a hunting accident. Everyone agrees she had it coming.

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