I recently stumbled upon Kindle versions of his WWII Trilogy, which delivered somewhat fictionalized versions of his war-time experiences as a Coast Guard officer.
Most of us were not actually aware that, during the WWII Emergency, the Coast Guard sailed far beyond the coast, operating as an extension of the US Navy.
In the first book, Ice Brothers, the protagonist, just out of college and married at the outbreak of the war, having a recreational yachting family background, wangles himself a commission as an officer in the Coast Guard, and finds himself immediately appointed Executive Officer of a meagerly-armed fishing trawler destined to fight the ice, deliver supplies, and finally eliminate German weather stations on the Greenland coast. It’s a darn good story.
In book 2, Voyage to Somewhere, after shore leave and recovery following two years service on the Greenland coasts, the protagonist (now with a different name) is handed command of a brand-new, hastily constructed and far-from-fully-equipped freighter with a crew made up of 26 newly enlisted seamen, all with surnames beginning with W, tasked to sail from California to Hawaii then on to New Guinea and every small island in between.
Book 3, Pacific Interlude, the same Sloan Wilson-figure, again with another name, has his third command: a decrepit, rusty and leaky tanker loaded with high-octane aviation fuel for delivery to brand-new American bases on the Philippines. His chances of survival look slim.
Wilson’s alter ego knows perfectly well that he could easily escape this assignment, but just can’t bring himself to do it.
Did he really have to accept the likely death sentence of being assigned to the Y â€“ 18? Like the woman who did not want to make love, a man who did not want to fight for life in a war could get constant headaches and backaches. If he complained enough to some doctor here in Brisbane, the word would be sent to the personnel officer in New Guinea and a replacement would arrive. Headquarters didnâ€™t want skippers who are chronically ill. No one was forced to command a ship. So why not just beg off this crazy assignment?
He would not do that because he would not do that. Not much of an answer, but it was the truth. He remembered his father telling him that the Grants and his motherâ€™s people, the Garricks, had fought in every American war and probably in the wars of England and Germany, where they came from, back through the centuriesâ€¦ â€œWars never make much sense if you try to find fancy causes for them,â€ his father Charles had said. â€œNo country is morally much superior to any other, if you think of history, the battles over religion and politics always seem ridiculous in retrospect. One fact remains: itâ€™s the nature of any human society to expand until it collides with another. It then is repulsed or swallows the other. A nation without enough good fighting men is bound to be swallowed. In time of peace no one likes fighting men â€” they are a reproach to our morality. But when the bugle blows as it does and will in almost every generation, a nation stands or falls according to the strength of its fighting men. Nowadays industry and science have a lot to do with the fighting of wars, but they would be useless without the cutting edge of fighting men. Never be ashamed that all your people have been fighting men.â€
Alison Flood, of the Guardian, interviews a very knowledgeable book dealer and authority.
Edward Brooke-Hitching grew up in a rare book shop, with a rare book dealer for a father. As the author of histories of maps The Phantom Atlas, The Golden Atlas and The Sky Atlas, he has always been â€œreally fascinated by books that are down the back alleys of historyâ€. Ten years ago, he embarked on a project to come up with the â€œultimate libraryâ€. No first editions of Jane Austen here, though: Brooke-Hitchingâ€™s The Madmanâ€™s Library collects the most eccentric and extraordinary books from around the world.
â€œI was asking, if you could put together the ultimate library, ignoring the value or the academic significance of the books, what would be on that shelf if you had a time machine and unlimited budget?â€ he says.
Following up anecdotes, talking to booksellers and librarians and trawling through auction catalogues, he came across stories like that of the 605-page Qurâ€™an written in the blood of Saddam Hussein. â€œIf that was on a shelf, what could possibly sit next to it?â€ he asks. â€œI mentioned it to a bookseller and they told me about a diary that theyâ€™d had, from the 19th century, written by a shipwrecked captain who only had old newspaper and penguins to hand. So Fate of the Blenden Hall was written entirely in penguin blood.â€
Thereâ€™s the American civil war soldier who inscribed his journal of the conflict on to the violin he carried. Thereâ€™s the memoir of a Massachussetts highwayman, James Allen, which he â€œrequested be bound in his own skin after his death, and presented to his one victim who had fought back as a token of his admirationâ€. Or the diary of the Norwegian resistance fighter Petter Moen, pricked with a pin into squares of toilet paper and left in a ventilation shaft; although Moen was killed in 1944, one of his fellow prisoners returned to Oslo after it was liberated from the Nazis and found the diary. Or the entirely fabricated book An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa: its author George Psalmanazar, a blond-haired, blue-eyed, pale-skinned man with a thick French accent, arrived in London in about 1702 and declared himself to be the first Formosan, or Taiwanese, person to set foot on the European continent. (â€œObviously no one had been there and nobody knew what Taiwanese people looked like, and he became the toast of high society,â€ says Brooke-Hitching.)
Book contracts routinely include a â€œfailure to performâ€ clause. Contracts that come with a reported $65 million advance, such as the one signed by Barack and Michelle Obama in February 2017 with Penguin Random House (PRH), will inevitably include such a clause.
Among the most common of such failures is the failure to complete a contracted work by an agreed-upon deadline. PRH is staring down one such failure right now. At the time the Obama deal was made in early 2017, insiders were telling Publishers Weekly that books by both Michelle and Barack would be released in fall 2018.
Michelleâ€™s book did great, although Insanity Wrap believes there might have been some sales shenanigans as is sometimes the case with Democrat-penned political biographies.
That aside, here we are nearly two years after Barackâ€™s deadline, and the publisher still has nothing to publish:
â€œThe delay is wreaking havoc with print scheduling and of course budget planning,â€ one publishing insider told me. â€œThe enormous advance is starting to â€˜raiseâ€™ concerns within the publisher. While Michelleâ€™s book performed well, Obama needs to deliver the book and sales to make the overall deal worthwhile.”
Back in the early â€™90s, Obama took a $125,000 advance for a book on race and voting rights he never finished, although he did manage to hand in â€œbloated, yet incomplete drafts.â€ He also never repaid the advance, claiming he had too much student debt.
Some of the pages Obama did turn in, he wrote on a third-partyâ€™s dime:
He also did some writing at the offices of his new employer, Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, the townâ€™s leading civil rights firm. Some of his new colleagues were reportedly less than thrilled to see their young associate, feet up on his desk, doodling on his book on company time. The named partners, however, indulged him.
Insanity Wrap is impressed: Obama managed to get two organizations to pay him for a book he never wrote.
Pynchon does have his admirers, and he also has his followers, or people who are labelled his followers, and they do keep cropping up. I think thereâ€™s more than a little Pynchon floating around John Kennedy Toole, whose A Confederacy of Dunces is a book nearly as bloated as its protagonist; Don DeLilloâ€™s social, um, satires owe more than a little to Pynchonâ€™s work; and in a recent essay in Harperâ€™s magazine the young novelist Jonathan Franzen declares Pynchon a personal hero. David Foster Wallace moves beyond admiration to adulation â€“ if not, to put it more plainly, outright imitation. It is, in fact, a virtuoso performance that has eclipsed its progenitor: Wallace out-Pynchons Pynchon, and his third book, Infinite Jest, may well be the first novel to out-Gravityâ€™s Rainbow Gravityâ€™s Rainbow.
If nothing else, the success of Infinite Jest is proof that the Great American Hype Machine can still work wonders, in terms of sales. The novel has moved some 60,000 copies and racked up a stack of glowing reviews as thick as it is. What makes the bookâ€™s success even more noteworthy is that it is, in a word, terrible. Other words I might use include bloated, boring, gratuitous, and â€“ perhaps especially â€“ uncontrolled. I would, in fact, go so far as to say that Infinite Jest is one of the very few novels for which the phrase â€˜not worth the paper itâ€™s written onâ€™ has real meaning in at least an ecological sense; but to resort to such hyperbole would be to fall into the rut that characterises many reviews of this novel.
As the preceding paragraph should make clear, I found Infinite Jest immensely unsatisfactory. I resent the five weeks of my life I gave over to it; I resent every endlessly over-elaborated gag in the book, like the ten-page riff on why video telephones are unviable, or the dozen pages on the teenager who won all his tennis games by playing with a pistol held to his head, or the thousands and thousands and thousands of words devoted to pharmaceutical trivia on all sorts of mind-altering drugs; and I resent especially the 96 pages of tinily typed and deliberately pointless endnotes and â€˜errataâ€™, 388 in total, which make the novel a two-bookmark experience. In a hoped-for effort at balance, I also slogged my way through Wallaceâ€™s freshman effort, a novel called The Broom of the System, which, at 450 pages, is a relative lightweight next to Infinite Jest; nevertheless, what the novel saves in brevity is more than made up for in banality. The only thing even remotely interesting about Wallaceâ€™s first novel is that it reads like a study for his second. Both novels are set in an imagined United States; both revolve around an emotionally disturbed family full of geniuses, cripples and money; both feature a manmade wasteland which becomes central to the national imagination (in The Broom of the System itâ€™s called the Great Ohio Desert, which is why the book is set in Ohio of all places; in Infinite Jest itâ€™s called the Great Concavity); both, most importantly, work up an elaborate â€“ and elaborately digressive â€“ plot which deliberately ends as unsatisfactorily as possible.
Britain always leads the way, even preceding California, in reaching new levels of left-wing tyranny.
Nobody in America knows who Michael Gove is. But, it should be suficient to explain that he is high-ranking Tory politician and cabinet member.
Gove is in the news currently because his wife, Sarah Vine, a prominent newspaper columnist, indiscreetly published a photo of one of their bookshelves on Twitter, and some of its contents provoked leftist accusation of thought-crime.
People want to know why Michael Gove owns “racist” and “anti-Semitic” booksâ€™, reports the Independentâ€™s website. By ‘people’ it actually means the time-rich Twitterati, who have discovered a new hobby: bookshelf policing. And the latest bookshelf to fail their purity test, to commit the sin of containing books these people disapprove of, is Gove’s.
Yes, not content with policing speech, tweets, jokes and even hairstyles (witness the screams of ‘cultural appropriation’ that greet any celeb who wears her hair in a way her race isn’t meant to), now the offence-taking mob is policing bookshelves. The Shelf Stasi, we might call them, peruse the tomes in people’s private book collections and bark ‘Verboten!’ if they spy something unacceptable.
Sarah Vine the Daily Mail columnist and Gove’s wife, posted a photo of one of their bookshelves on Twitter and almost instantly the literature cops were out in force. As the Independent puts it, people spotted ‘something sinister’. They always do. Everything’s sinister to people who live to take offence.
The sinister thing in this case was a book by David Irving, the historian and Holocaust denier. And a copy of The Bell Curve by Charles Murray and Richard J Herrnstein, which argues that intelligence is shaped by environmental factors and genetic inheritance. Oh, and Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, which, as the Independent balefully informs us, ‘praises individualism and defends capitalism’. Lock up Vine and Gove instantly!
The meltdown was epic. Owen Jones, who can never resist the thrill of censorious rage, pointed a judgemental finger. It is very iffy, he said, that a Cabinet member owns a book by ‘one of the most notorious Holocaust deniers on earth’. Hicham Yezza, a writer for the Guardian, went further. If this bookshelf had been on Through the Keyhole, he said, ‘I’d have guessed Anders Breivik’.
Right, so Michael Gove is being spoken about in the same breath as one of the worst mass murderers on the basis of his bookshelf. That is deranged. It isn’t Gove and Vine who have behaved badly (by merely owning books!) â€“ it’s the frothing Twitterati with their borderline medieval insistence that certain books should be banned. Why don’t they draw up an Index Librorum Prohibitorum decreeing which books are ‘contrary to morality’ and should never be read, as the Vatican did in the 1500s?
How can a remote place like Matanuska-Susitna, Alaska gain the attention of the rest of the world? Why, it need merely elect a school board and turn the bozos loose to make micromanaging curriculum decisions. NBC News.
An Alaska school board removed five famous â€” but allegedly “controversial” â€” books from district classrooms, inadvertently spurring renewed local interest in the excluded works.
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller, “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison were all taken off an approved list of works that teachers in the Mat-Su Borough School District may use for instruction.
The school board voted 5-2 on Wednesday to yank those works out of teachers’ hands starting this fall. The removed books contained content that could potentially harm students, school board vice president Jim Hart told NBC News on Tuesday.
“If I were to read these in a corporate environment, in an office environment, I would be dragged into EO,” an equal opportunity complaint proceeding, Hart said. “The question is why this is acceptable in one environment and not another.”
“Caged Bird” was derided for “‘anti-white’ messaging,” “Gatsby” and “Things” are loaded with “sexual references,” “Invisible” has bad language and “Catch” contains violence, according to the school district.
Dianne K. Shibe, president of the Mat-Su Education Association teachers union, said parents and her members were stunned by the board action.
Even though the school board had listed an agenda item to discuss “controversial book descriptions,” Shibe said no one believed those works were under serious threat.
John and I were riding around Seeley Lake when we turned down the narrow driveway to Normanâ€™s cabin. John made a habit of checking on the older summer people, and today was Normanâ€™s day.
The cabin was on a knoll overlooking the water. There were tamaracks all around it. As we approached the door, I could hear someone inside humming. Before John could knock, Norman opened the door, smiling, inviting us in. He stepped into the kitchen, took the lid off a Crock-Pot, and stirred whatever he was cooking, releasing a delicious, meaty aroma. He herded us onto the screened porch, then disappeared, humming as he walked. A few minutes later, he returned with two tumblers half full of something brown, handed one to John and one to me, then went back inside for his glass. He sat down in a chair near me and began to talk.
â€œRebecca, this is Scotch on the rocks. Before dinner, you can drink Scotch or bourbon, with ice or water or club soda. With a twist of lemon in the Scotch if you like. Or you can have a glass of sherry.
â€œA Tom Collins, a gin and tonic, those are drinks for you and your boyfriend after a game of tennis. Not before a meal. With food, you can have wine. And after a meal, you can have another glass of Scotch or bourbon. Or a sherry. Or a cordial, maybe brandy. Thatâ€™s it, darling, those are your choices.â€
I looked at the Scotch in my glass. I was 16, and I had never had a real drink. The Scotch smelled and tasted like lighter fluid, but I managed to swallow a little without choking. It went straight up my nose, setting my nasal passages on fire. Norman was complaining to John about some clear-cutting bastard who needed his testicles removed. From my brotherâ€™s response, I realized that the bastard was the ranger who lived next door to us, who I had thought was a nice man. I looked around the porch. There were two beds against one wall and a few chairs and tables. I drank some more Scotch and closed my eyes, then opened them and gulped down the rest of the drink.
â€œRebecca, darling, Iâ€™ll get that,â€ Norman said as he took my glass away. He soon returned with more Scotch. I made it about halfway through the second drink before getting up and lying down on one of the beds.
Aris Janigian admiringly reviews a new book profiling two iconic figures from his own part of the Golden State.
DECEMBER 2, 2019
I WAS BORN AND RAISED a farmerâ€™s son in Fresno and currently live here, working seasonally in the wine industry. But Los Angeles was home for most of my life, and whenever I learned that friends were heading to San Francisco, Iâ€™d suggest they take Highway 99 through the San Joaquin Valley instead of Interstate 5, which skirts the valley to the west. The 99 is a little longer route but so much more colorful (which isnâ€™t necessarily to say â€œscenicâ€).
No one ever took me up on my suggestion, and they didnâ€™t have to explain why not. After all, their impression of the middle of the state, de rigueur for Angelenos, is that gun-owning, pro-Trump types live there in dusty, beat-up towns with ugly names â€” Arvin, Alpaugh, Delano â€” that reek of cow dung. The valleyâ€™s fields are green but also monotonously endless, and none of its vineyards are rolling and soft on the eyes. Sure, itâ€™s part of California, but not really â€œof it.â€ These scoffers know, in the abstract, that this is where the huge majority of Californians, and a good portion of the entire country, gets its food, but arenâ€™t all those mega-farmers in the middle of the state also stealing precious water from salmon and smelts? The scoffers would much rather chat about their local farmersâ€™ market, urban garden, or at least Whole Foods.
In fact, those mega-farmers are, for the most part, simply proprietors of small farms that, over a generation or two, have grown big. And, true, weâ€™re talking about thousands of tons of tomatoes or almonds, and wells several hundred feet deep, and chemicals siphoned out of 250-gallon totes to keep mold and an array of devastating and exceedingly perseverant insects down; but if it werenâ€™t for the sheer scale and efficiency of farming in the San Joaquin Valley, only the rich in this state could afford a melon or a peach.
Neither, for an office party, would we have the option of picking up a case of Charles Shaw wine â€” which is precisely where Frank Bergonâ€™s storytelling begins in his new book, Two-Buck Chuck & The Marlboro Man. As it turns out, Fred Franzia, founder of said winery (a.k.a. â€œTwo-Buck Chuck,â€), went to school with Bergon in Madera, a city about 20 miles north of Fresno. Now, decades later, theyâ€™re at a coffee shop, itâ€™s midmorning, and the writer is trying to tease out of the winemaker the explanation for his mind-boggling success. Read the rest of this entry »
Mt. Zion MB could make as fair a case as any. Conveniently, the church is located just off of Highway 7, so its memorial can winkingly quote Johnsonâ€™s â€œMe and the Devil Blues,â€ in which he sang, â€œYou may bury my body / Down by the highway side.â€
Atlas Obscura argues that the new biographer of Robert Johnson has solved the long-argued mystery of the Blues giant’s burial place.
For blues fans around the world, the name Robert Johnson has grown synonymous with mystery, even sorcery. Throughout his short life, he moved around between Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee, and didnâ€™t leave much of a trail. His entire body of recorded work consists of just 29 songs (plus 13 alternate takes), recorded during two sessions in Texas. Those songs, however, include some of the most canonical in all the bluesâ€”such as â€œSweet Home Chicago,â€ â€œI Believe Iâ€™ll Dust My Broom,â€ and, of course, â€œCross Road Blues.â€
For more than half a century, fans and researchers have rhapsodized and hypothesized about Johnsonâ€™s itinerant lifestyle, untimely death, and iconic songbook. The mythology that swirls around this one man from Hazlehurst, Mississippi, has created its own â€œcottage industryâ€ of publishing and tourism, says Bruce Conforth, coauthor with Gayle Dean Wardlow of the new biography Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson. As Johnsonâ€™s life story seems more elusive, his place in blues history seems more secure.
The most famous myth surrounding Johnson concerns his alleged â€œdeal with the Devilâ€ at a Mississippi crossroads, where itâ€™s said he traded his soul for guitar virtuosity. The Devil legend entered popular consciousness in the 1960s (long after Johnson died, in 1938), and is in many ways the wellspring of rock â€˜nâ€™ rollâ€™s satanic motifsâ€”from the Rolling Stones through Iron Maiden and beyond. The storyâ€™s obviously not true, but thatâ€™s hardly the point. The point is that the Devil is in rock musicâ€™s DNA, and the stories around Johnson helped put it there.
Steven Johnson, Robertâ€™s grandson and vice president of the Robert Johnson Blues Foundation, says he first became aware of some of his grandfatherâ€™s mythology when he was a teenager. He found the stories neither scary nor particularly alluring, but he always felt, he says, that they were concealing or misleading, â€œthat there was truth that hadnâ€™t been told.â€
Some decades later, a new yarn was spunâ€”not about Johnsonâ€™s life, but his afterlife. No one seemed to know exactly where his mortal remains were buried, and the idea took hold that there were at least three possible gravesites. Though the actual mystery has been cleared up over the years, the myth rolls on. The New York Times boosted it in September 2019, the National Park Service still provides an outdated account, and the rumor continues to travel easily among tourists and blues pilgrims. It just seems to fit: Robert Johnson, that perfectly unknowable spirit of the blues, canâ€™t find eternal rest.
Whatever Robert Johnsonâ€™s life lacked in actual magic, it certainly made up for in pure human drama. According to Up Jumped the Devil, Johnson died from poisoning. He was having an affair with Beatrice Davis, a married woman whose jealous husband, Ralph, dosed Johnsonâ€™s whiskey with naphthalinâ€”likely without the intention to kill. (The drug was commonly used to subdue rowdy patrons at bars.) What Ralph didnâ€™t know was that Johnson had recently been diagnosed with an ulcer, and the spiked drink proved too much for him in his weakened state. As with all things Johnson, itâ€™s not so simple, since his death certificate names syphilis as the cause of death. Conforth and Wardlow think itâ€™s likelier that the disease was listed to obscure the foul play.
That death certificateâ€”discovered by Wardlow in 1968â€”states that Johnson was buried at â€œZion Churchâ€ in Leflore County, Mississippi. But it provides no more information than that, and actually just raises more questions. Was it Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Morgan City, Mississippi? Little Zion Church in Greenwood? The other Mt. Zion Church, which is also in Greenwood? Leflore County is small, but there was a world of possibilities within itâ€”any one of those places, or somewhere else entirely. For decades, the true gravesite was an open question, with scattered anecdotes in place of answers. All that anyone knew for sure was that Johnson was buried in an unmarked graveâ€”just like most African Americans from his region and era.