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What Are You Reading

Tiki Tom

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The Scarlet Pimpernel was banned at my school. Well not exactly banned, more cold shouldered. Having just read through most of Wiki about The Pimpernel and the author, I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why.

I think I know why. In the story, towards the end, there is a chapter titled “the jew”. In this chapter, the bad guy —a French representative of the revolution— throws just about every antisemitic stereotype at the Jew in question. It is pretty bad. However (spoiler alert!), it turns out that the much abused Jew is, in fact, the Scarlet Pimpernel in disguise. So, does all this make the book antisemitic? Or can it be argued that, because the hero of the story takes the abuse, it is actually a statement against antisemitism? I have heard arguments in both directions. I will say that, before getting to the conclusion, that particular chapter had me feeling pretty uncomfortable. Of course, the book was published In 1905, which makes one suspect that no lofty statements were being made; that is just how the world was in those days.
 
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I think I know why. In the story, towards the end, there is a chapter titled “the jew”. In this chapter, the bad guy —a French representative of the revolution— throws just about every antisemitic stereotype at the Jew in question. It is pretty bad. However (spoiler alert!), it turns out that the much abused Jew is, in fact, the Scarlet Pimpernel in disguise. So, does all this make the book antisemitic? Or can it be argued that, because the hero of the story takes the abuse, it is actually a statement against antisemitism? I have heard arguments in both directions. I will say that, before getting to the conclusion, that particular chapter had me feeling pretty uncomfortable. Of course, the book was published In 1905, which makes one suspect that no lofty statements were being made; that is just how the world was in those days.

I haven't read "The Scarlet Pimpernel" (I have seen and enjoyed the Leslie Howard movie version), but what you just said echoed in my head with another book published in 1905, "The House of Mirth."

In it, there is a pretty major character who is a Jew and he encounters some anti-semitism along the way. He also is one of the nicer characters in the book - but he is not perfect.

Reading it through a modern lens, one can rightfully get incensed at the antisemitism, but one can also be encouraged by the Jewish character's overall positive presentation. However, as you note, all of that is probably just our modern head going to work on it as the 1905 author (Edith Wharton) was, most likely, just writing her story and characters to reflect the way the world was then.
 

GHT

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I think I know why. In the story, towards the end, there is a chapter titled “the jew”. In this chapter, the bad guy —a French representative of the revolution— throws just about every antisemitic stereotype at the Jew in question
I haven't read "The Scarlet Pimpernel" (I have seen and enjoyed the Leslie Howard movie version), but what you just said echoed in my head with another book published in 1905, "The House of Mirth."

In it, there is a pretty major character who is a Jew and he encounters some anti-semitism along the way. He also is one of the nicer characters in the book - but he is not perfect.
Tom, your speculation makes a lot of sense, and FF I have come across that anti-antisemitism remark previously. Have you ever read Laura Hobson's: "Gentleman's greement?" It's the story of a gentile journalist who poses as a Jew in order to gain a firsthand experience of anti-Semitism in life.
 
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Tom, your speculation makes a lot of sense, and FF I have come across that anti-antisemitism remark previously. Have you ever read Laura Hobson's: "Gentleman's greement?" It's the story of a gentile journalist who poses as a Jew in order to gain a firsthand experience of anti-Semitism in life.

GHT, yes, I have read the book and have seen the movie and am impressed with both. I do not quite understand your comment, though.
 

FOXTROT LAMONT

One Too Many
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A rain soaked muddy Churchill Downs track this London evening; or Kentucky afternoon rather, prompted a split superfecta gamble with intuitive second look at win-place choices
for bankroll insurance cover. I went outside my probables for Thorpedo Anna to score the win and boxed bet #11; 13. Having bet my arse off on a heavy High Fiver fan spread-eagle I most
sincerely regret placing, rescued my roll for tomorrow but busted flat the Oaks. :(

Churchill Downs doesn't look good with cumulus clouds gathered for another track soaking.
Having watched yesterday's Oaks replay, the horses with initial speed gained ground and were ahead beyond catch much less pass, so today needs a speed-focused second look.
Fierceness #17; despite mood swings merits lead pick to win based on his explosive celerity.
And #2 Sierra Leone poorly posted at tight deuce is fast. A far too fast horse some pros might have earlier discounted for post squeeze but today is a sealed track rain race.
Posts #3, 4, 6, 7, 8 look bettable second-third tier trifecta crap shoot or bet out dice throws
along superfecta four and high fiver. I recommend only light and tight for amateur frolic today.
Rain really tests a hardbitten rail track crow like meself with all these Noah's Ark doves crashing Churchill Downs. :mad::eek::mad:
 

FOXTROT LAMONT

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A busted flush Kentucky Derby. Ironically, however, it's my own fault but overall I'm satisfied
with my play in the run for the roses. With the rain abated and track sealed, I eschewed easy
peasey two bit bets to set sight on just High Five wagers. Speed favoured stalk and closure with #11 wild card Fierceness considered-rightly so-the most dangerous. Mercurial thoroughbreds are a handicapper's wood splinter, so doubtful meself took another glance
at tightly squeezed #2 Sierra Leone who came in behind Mystick Dan, highly favoured mudder; yet sealed track absent rain gave nod hunch Resilience. Resilience came in sixth.
I put Sierra Leone second followed by Forever Young, Catching Freedom, I had then to cap the five spot. I hit ALL, netting T.O. Password. Four out of five horses picked/hit. Fierceness came in at fifthteenth.

The Kentucky Derby High Five paid $316,920.10 per dollar staked. :oops:
 

Tiki Tom

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“A Month in the Country” by J.L. Carr. 135 pages.
A perfect book to read in one’s old age by a cosy fire.
The book claims itself to have been written 50+ years after the events in question…
It is the bejeweled summer of 1920. A young man in his mid-twenties shows up in a small village in the countryside to perform a job: he has been hired to live in the bell tower of an ancient church and spend the summer painstakingly revealing a medieval mural that has recently been discovered hidden beneath whitewash. The young man arrives with a ferocious face twitch and an instinct to bury himself in his work. He is a veteran of the hell of Passchendaele. His sometimes wife has flaked out on him yet again. But these stories are only revealed in passing, in short asides. The narrator talks of that glorious, beautiful summer. The mural turns out to be a quiet masterpiece depicting the last judgement. He makes friends in the village. There is a sad but sweet near-miss with love.
As the last few pages reveal, all this was written after a half century later. After that summer, he never once returned to that village. Yet the memory of fleeting time, of the healing qualities of work and quiet and art, and of friendship remain.
It’s a short book filled with pathos and sweetness. A quiet book with a main character that everyone can relate to. Ahh, the passage of time.
 
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“A Month in the Country” by J.L. Carr. 135 pages.
A perfect book to read in one’s old age by a cosy fire.
The book claims itself to have been written 50+ years after the events in question…
It is the bejeweled summer of 1920. A young man in his mid-twenties shows up in a small village in the countryside to perform a job: he has been hired to live in the bell tower of an ancient church and spend the summer painstakingly revealing a medieval mural that has recently been discovered hidden beneath whitewash. The young man arrives with a ferocious face twitch and an instinct to bury himself in his work. He is a veteran of the hell of Passchendaele. His sometimes wife has flaked out on him yet again. But these stories are only revealed in passing, in short asides. The narrator talks of that glorious, beautiful summer. The mural turns out to be a quiet masterpiece depicting the last judgement. He makes friends in the village. There is a sad but sweet near-miss with love.
As the last few pages reveal, all this was written after a half century later. After that summer, he never once returned to that village. Yet the memory of fleeting time, of the healing qualities of work and quiet and art, and of friendship remain.
It’s a short book filled with pathos and sweetness. A quiet book with a main character that everyone can relate to. Ahh, the passage of time.

I read it so many years ago, I needed you to bring the plot/story back to me, but as you did - you distill these books down very well - I remember it and how much I enjoyed It. Thank you.
 
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A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond, original published in 1958


"Please look after this bear. Thank you."


The best children's books can be enjoyed by adults. The best children's books also don't slam you over the head with lessons or, worse, politics, an obnoxious obsession of modern authors of children's books.

If you want, you can read lessons and politics, even modern politics, into A Bear Called Paddington, but that's on you, as the book is best enjoyed for the joie de vivre of a small bear and the loving family who takes him in.

When a little bear, from "the Darkest Peru," arrived at Paddington Station with just the simple note "Please look after this bear. Thank you" written on his lapel, Mrs. Brown knew what she had to do: she and her family had to look after this bear.

Paddington, immediately named for the station at which he was found - and quite proud of his impressive sounding new name - is a handful, a joy and a singular personality. One can only be amazed at the inspiration that led author Michael Bond to create Paddington.

Paddington was sent to England by his Aunt Lucy when she got too old and had to go into "a home for retired bears." Paddington loves marmalade (smart bear) and loves trying new things, but often understands them as only a bear can.

He's kind hearted, but gets incensed at cheaters and mean people. His stare, when he thinks somebody is behaving badly, leaves no doubt as to his displeasure. He's got a rigid, but mainly, well-calibrated sense of justice.

His politeness is indefatigable and a source of much of the book's humor. Even when he's created chaos, eating in public usually leads to unexpected messes, his sincere apologies reveal his genuine surprise that things have gone awry. You just can't get mad at him.

His enthusiasm for life and adventures is contagious, which uplifts the entire kind Brown family. The Browns themselves are part of the wonder of author Bond's world.

All the Browns, Mr. and Mrs. Brown, their two children Judy and Jonathan and their housekeeper Mrs. Bird, take Paddington in stride. Flooded bathrooms, toppled window displays and food everywhere are just part of the experience of living with Paddington.

The Browns all intuit that having Paddington in their lives is such a positive and such an act of kindness - what else could they do, after all, send him out into the world alone? - that all his bear contretemps are taken in stride.

Bond's anthropomorphized bear combines a child-like approach to life - he likes to have his hat and suitcase with him at all times and he is always open to new friendships - with a sensitivity for others that makes him adorable, but neither selfish nor treacly.

There are lessons here about friendship, charity, decency, kindness and family, but they come out of the entertaining and, often, funny tales as opposed to being forced on you.

Bond wrote a total of twenty eight books in the Paddington series and there have been, so far, two enjoyable movies with, surprisingly, the second one being the better of the two. Clearly, Bond created something special in his little bear from "the darkest Peru."

You want to start with A Bear called Paddington as it's always good to get the origin story straight, but it's comforting to know there are so many more adventures to read because, as Paddington says, "Things are always happening to me. I'm that sort of bear."
 

FOXTROT LAMONT

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Crunching numbers for Saturday's Preakness now, 04.00 London but wide awake with
Tony Bennet/Norah Jones and coffee.
Baffert scratched Muth who spiked a temperature, crashing the board back down square one. However, adversity sweetens the stakes. Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan is the horse
to beat yet three horses-Catching Freedom; Tuscan Gold; and Baffert's Imagination can
beat Danno. Imagination is capable though lacks a killer instinct. Tuscan Gold is still a wet
behind the ears rookie albeit a Chad Brown rookie.
Catching Freedom ran the KD course at 53.53 ft per second to Danno's 53.59, but did a wider
race off railbird Dan, covering fourteen additional feet at cost. 1/600th of a second which when removed matches Daniel the Mystik.
 
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Until They Sail by James A Michener from the anthology Return to Paradise originally published in 1951


Until They Sail is a long short story from James A. Michener's Return to Paradise, an anthology of essays and related short stories on the South Pacific. The essays are informative but dry, and the short stories are uneven.

Until They Sail and its essay, though, are engaging and evocative, which is probably why the fictional story part of the pair was turned into the very well-done 1957 movie Until They Sail. Hollywood has a talent for knowing what stories will translate to the screen. (Comment on the movie can be found here: #31,467 )

In the essay, Michener gives a brief history of New Zealand, including a not politically correct recounting that reveals it wasn't just Westerners who moved in and pushed out indigenous people; here, the early settlers, the Moriori, were pushed out by later settlers, the Maoris.

Michener also explores the tangled history New Zealand has with the United Kingdom, which resulted in the white New Zealanders, like whites in other colonies, often being more "English" and attached to the Crown than many who lived in England at that time.

The real fun in this pairing, though, is the long short story Until They Sail. Four sisters, ranging in age from fifteen to thirty, live in a small but pleasant bungalow with their nearly comatose mother.

Their mother never recovered from the shock of her Naval Captain husband's death at sea early in WWII, so the sisters are, effectively, on their own. Properly raised for their day, their world changes when New Zealand's young men go off to fight in WWII.

For a time, the island is devoid of young men, but this drought turns into a surfeit when American servicemen arrive to defend New Zealand and to use it as a base from which to take back the islands to the north that the Japanese recently conquered.

Until They Sail is a homefront story, though, as it explores what happens when a young female population, wanting for men, runs smack into a wave of young, virile and flush-with-funds Americans, far from home and wondering how much longer they'd be alive.

Each sister responds in her own way. The fifteen-year-old innocently dates a braggart young soldier just to experience dating and kissing, even though she knows he's "a drip." But the second youngest, Delia, goes, well, wild.

Despite being married to a New Zealand boy now being held in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, Delia makes up for lost time by sleeping with a succession of Americans until she finds one that wants to marry her and take her back to America after the war.

The oldest sister, Anne, who is thought "cold" (a euphemism for frigid) and on a path to spinsterhood, surprises everyone by having a love affair with an American officer. He, though, will soon be leaving to fight in the hell that would be Tarawa.

The second oldest, Barbara, the most practical one who takes on the role of mother, tries to manage all these American males swirling around her sisters even as she, herself, begins a gentle flirtation with an American officer.

The story takes several surprising turns including infidelity, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy (when that mattered) and even a murder trial, as Michener packs plenty of drama into this fast-paced tale. One assumes he conflated a lot of real experiences into this one fictional family.

It works because you care about the sisters and because Michener has wonderful raw material to work with -- an atypical moment in homefront history.

Being no more blunt than Michener is, he captured what happened when young, sex-starved women were smashed up against young, sex-starved men, in a time when the normal rules of decorum seemed "suspended."

This is the rare occasion when the movie might just nudge out the book, though, as the 1957 picture is so wonderfully acted and directed that you have a stronger connection with the characters in the film than on the printed page.

The book, however, as almost always, gives you additional background information on the characters and events that help to round out the story. This is one, though, where you might want to see the movie first to experience the picture completely fresh.

Return to Paradise, the full book, is a clunky and somewhat dated effort that awkwardly tries to combine essays and short stories. But being a talented author, Michener did drop one jewel in the center of it with the wonderful homefront tale Until They Sail.
 

FOXTROT LAMONT

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I've read some of Mitchner. Tales of the South Pacific long long time past back in Spitalfields.
His essays were all to the better best for study larn read type take hold to shake this Eastie
lad awake when needed most. I'll find this for its sagacious salacious scripture set and tone. Flick also afterwards.;)

Done with handicapping the race. A Preakness upended for riders as much ridden and rain yet. Looked over race film. I dinna hold that Baffert's has the distance. Film proves it sure, so
I guess Bob wanted this one to hold back the pack for his scratch.:confused:
 

GHT

I'll Lock Up
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My current bedside reading. In his joyful new book, Billy explores this philosophy and how it has shaped him, and he shares hilarious new stories from his lifetime on the road. From riding his trike down America's famous Route 66, building an igloo on an iceberg in the Arctic, playing elephant polo (badly) in Nepal and crashing his motorbike (more than once), to eating witjuti grubs in Australia, being serenaded by a penguin in New Zealand, and swapping secrets in a traditional Sweat Lodge ritual in Canada, Rambling Man is a truly global adventure with the greatest possible travel companion.

Rambling Man is very much like Billy's television monologues, it's a collection of stories, easy to dip in and out of.
 

Tiki Tom

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Nobel Prize winning author William Faulkner has been on my “to read” list for a long time.
This month I jumped into the deep end and read Absalom, Absalom. (300 pages). It is often mentioned as capturing all his themes and being one of Faulkner’s most important works.
it is not a light or casual read. Paragraphs are often a page long. Sentences are long run-on structures that are stream of consciousness. You get narrations with several different characters giving their points of view, and sometimes they contradict each other. Sometimes the language is almost biblical in nature. That said, once you get into the rhythm of the thing, the language can be beautiful and the beat is hypnotic.
Over all, the story is written as a Greek Tragedy with Heavy dark Gothic undertones.
The story is about Thomas Sutpen, who comes to Mississippi in about 1830. He cons The local Indians out of a large piece of land, borrows cotton seed to gets started, imports a bunch of Caribbean slaves, and eventually builds a big plantation house and becomes rich. Then comes the Civil War, in which Sutpen commands a Mississippi regiment. But Sutpen‘s lifelong goal is to build a family dynasty.
Absalom, Absalom has been described as “the anti-Gone With The Wind.” (Both were published in 1936.) A lot of dark truths are revealed about the South, Slavery, etc. I have to admit that —as a damned Yankee— I was not very well educated on these topics. One theme that is central to the plot is that, apparently, in the old south it was fairly common for slave owners to have sex with their slaves and a lot of mixed-race children were born, which the slave owning fathers would not acknowledge. Anyway, as the story progresses, the Sutpen family gets caught in a repeating pattern of wicked/evil decisions (including incest!) until the whole edifice goes down in flames. Literally.
It is a murder mystery, but the question is never “who did it?” But “why? Why? why?”
It goes without saying that Thomas Sutpen represents the history of the South itself. More than once characters say that the reason that God let the Confederacy lose the Civil War was because men like Thomas Sutpen were in charge.
The book is dark and creepy and disturbing and haunting. Gothic. But not without its Poetry.
What is interesting is that William Faulkner was himself a Southerner who spent his entire life in Mississippi. But while everyone else (Margaret Mitchel!) was building romanticized “lost cause” myths about the Confederacy, William Faulkner could not avert his eyes.
In the final paragraph of the book, a Canadian asks the narrator “why do you hate the South?”
The narrator answers: “I don’t! I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!”
The end.
To put a nail in my little Faulkner project, the next book I am going to read is the 2020 NYTimes notable book “The Saddest Truth: William Faulkner’s Civil War” by Michael Gorra; part biography, part travelogue, part history.
 
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FOXTROT LAMONT

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^ Quite a topper cut Tik, very sure hit Faulkner's mark.

Yet, so this New York Times 2020 nota bene listed is to become your next victim;
however, any Times publish is implicitly suspect for moral truth murdered in sunlight sure.
''The Saddest Truth'' title itself suggests liberal dirge mourn rapine avarice; all things caucasian consequent blame-gameitis. Peter Wood's 1620 Response to the 1619 Project
should be required reading fare American and British grammar school curricula.
 
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Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, originally published in 1982


Shoeless Joe by author W.P. Kinsella asks two things of its readers: believe in a metaphysical magic of some sort and be a fan of baseball, not a rabid "my team is the best" fan, but a fan of the history, the lore and the joy of the game.

Those are two fairly specific asks, but if you fit within the lines, the book is a fun and, at times, moving read, even if the writing and story are a bit choppy.

Ray Kinsella, his wife Annie and their five-year-old daughter Karen live on a small struggling corn farm in Iowa. When Ray hears a voice saying, "If you build it, he will come," he eventually determines the voice wants him to build a baseball diamond in his corn field.

The "he" Ray believes is his father's favorite player Shoeless Joe Jackson of the famous "Black Sox Scandal" of the 1919 World Series. Baseball fans will immediately recognize the importance of Shoeless Joe to baseball and, perhaps, American history.

This voice sets Ray, with complete support of his wife, on a journey that sees him not only build a baseball diamond in his cornfield, but also travel a thousand miles to effectively kidnap reclusive writer and baseball fan J.D. Salinger and bring him back to Iowa.

Baseball, here, serves as a framework for several men's lives. Ray's father played professional baseball but never made it to the majors. Instead of telling his young son fairy tales at night, he recounted old baseball stories, including the plight of Shoeless Joe.

Salinger, too, once wanted to be a major league player. In Kinsella's imagination, Salinger is a wounded man who, like Ray and a few others the two pick up along their journey back to Iowa, can find some sort of emotional peace through baseball.

Back at the farm on Ray's field, some form of a game takes place most evenings between players from baseball's past, including of course, Shoeless Joe. Ray, Annie, Salinger and, sometimes, a few others look on.

Some, though, like Annie's greedy brother, who is trying to foreclose on Ray and Annie's farm, can't see the game being played on Ray's diamond. In the brother's eyes, the diamond is just further proof of Ray's incompetence as a farmer, husband and father.

The plot has its share of twists as the fate of the farm hangs in the balance, but the magic of the book is its reverence for baseball, so much so that it envisions a baseball diamond in a cornfield in Iowa as a portal to the past and, maybe, the afterlife.

Morals, values, faith and ideology all get tangled up in baseball's history. Shoeless Joe stands as an example of the gray morality that exists on a continuum between the comic book extremes of pure good and evil few ever achieve.

In Shoeless Joe's plight –– a forever besmirched legacy and a lifetime ban from the game –– we see something of America's loss of innocence. We also see everyone's struggle with morality and, perhaps, we gain a better compassion for human failing.

Tucked inside all this baseball metaphysics and morality is the wonderful marriage of Ray and Annie, who love, respect and support each other. It's nice to see happiness and tenderness thrive in the part of the romance story that happens after the lovers wed.

Shoeless Joe, which was the inspiration for the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, wanders pointlessly here and there and brings in a few unnecessary characters, but it's easy to forgive its faults for all its joy, humor and emotion.

Author W.P. Kinsella wrote a love letter to baseball in Shoeless Joe. At a time when baseball was still, kind of, sort of, the American pastime, Kinsella captured the magic of the game as a metaphor for life and salvation.

That's a pretty impressive achievement for a book that only asks you to have a little faith in the cosmos, a little belief in magic and a little love for baseball's place in the American story.


N.B. Some might remember that I usually read a baseball book or two at the start of spring training each year. Well, I'm late, but I finally got to this year's selection.
 

Tiki Tom

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Great review, FF.
I’m one of those guys who can’t sit through a baseball game on TV. However, when we lived in DC, we used to regularly Go to live baseball games in Baltimore. I loved it… and not so much for the game itself. I loved the “Americana” of it; the feeling of community; everybody on the same page and going through the same rituals; going with a group of friends; the all American food; The total lack of pretensions. Loved it. Thought myself an Orioles fan. Then we moved to a succession of places without major league teams and I never looked back. Nonetheless, I’ve got fond memories of those days. I liked the movie Field of Dreams. Thanks for pointing out that it was based on a book.
 

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