Monthly Archives: January 2008

12 posts

The Collected Short Stories of Louis L’Amour

If you meet a quiet, rugged kind of a fella with an almost superhuman knowledge of tracking, botany, and the lawful ways of the West, don’t challenge him in a gunfight. You’ll lose. Keep an eye out for smooth-talking, rich, and handsome men. They’re not to be trusted and they never end tidily. But a trim girl with smiling eyes who knows how to ride a horse, be she a reformed prostitute or a rancher’s daughter…well, expect to see her settling down any day now.

Comrade J by Pete Earley

It was the goings-on, the kleptocracy that emerged, the sheer blatant thuggery of Putin’s entourage, the vandalism and looting that commenced after 1989, related by Tretyakov, that finally discouraged him, a professional through and through and a Russian patriot. The principles that led to his flight into the cloaking arms of the CIA and FBI are suggestive: leaving behind all his property and possessions, amounting to about two million dollars, was worth it because in his view Russia was ruined and things had gone beyond any hope of redemption in his lifetime. He wanted his daughter to grow up a free woman.

Morning and Evening Talk by Naguib Mahfouz

Reading these medieval entries can be as exciting as perusing annotated bibliographies at times, since the authors must restrict their scope and still cover important points: years of birth and death, full name and an explanation of its genealogy, ethnicity, education, occupation, and moral probity. What lifts them beyond the mundane is the inclusion of a telling anecdote, a quirky personality trait, a defining event, an obituary made literary.

Lots in a Name

Rather more subtle is Hercule Poirot, whose name contains elements of both “Hercules”, the classical hero, and “Pierrot”, the Italian clown – an interesting combination of heroism and buffoonery. The name reflects Christie’s practice of presenting Poirot alternately as a figure of fun and a stern emissary of justice. Dorothy L. Sayers balances her detective hero in a similar way – Peter Wimsey’s name has all the connotations of his silly-ass-about-town persona, but he is shadowed by his middle name – “Death.”

Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness

“In waking we tend to think The Dream vanishes, evaporates in daylight like morning dew on grass. But it doesn’t. The unsettling Matrix-esque truth here is that we all live in world-simulations, pretty much all of the time. The brain isn’t out in the world; it’s locked in a dark box in your head. Patterns of information ting against our senses and get routed into the brain for model assembly. One of the core insights of the science of perception is our models of the world are heavily interpreted—our own expectations and cultural mores and personal history shape “The Real,” so that in some ways our personal little submarines move through an ocean of our own making.”

Notes from Italy: Getting into the Mountains

I did not know that Neanderthals once lived hereabouts; that farmers first settled here six thousand years ago; that nearby, down on the Campagna, the Gauls defeated the Romans in 390 B.C. before going on to take Rome itself. I knew dimly that the Allied forces had fought the Wehrmacht in these parts in 1944, but not that the day before the Americans took Marcellina, the Germans rounded up all the village men they could find and shot them in reprisal for the killing of two German grenadiers.

The Great Upheaval by Jay Winik

In twelve short years – from 1788 to 1800 – the world changed, with the late eighteenth century emerging as one of the most momentous, if restless, eras in human history. In Russia, a great dynasty would be toppled; in France, revolution and the guillotine would hold sway; and, in America, the nascent democracy would enter the most critical period of its short existence.

Murdered by Mumia: A Conversation With Maureen Faulkner

“The man lifted his arm and fired a single shot in Danny’s back. Danny was able to turn and fire one return shot at Abu-Jamal that hit him in the abdomen. Danny then fell onto the sidewalk. Mumia Abu-Jamal approached him as he lay unarmed and wounded on the ground and pointed his 5 shot Charter Arms revolver at Danny. He fired three more shots at him; two pierced his jacket but did not hit him. Jamal then moved closer, bent down and placed his gun to within 6 inches of Danny’s face. He fired his final shot into Danny’s forehead and the bullet came to rest in his brain.”

The Common Secret by Susan Wicklund

Her home was invaded in her absence. Both muddy boot prints and anti-abortion pamphlets were left behind. Her driveway was barricaded with barrels of concrete to keep her from going to work. Threatening phone calls and letters arrived regularly. Her daughter’s school was invaded and the child harassed to tears. She endured the death of colleagues who were gunned down by anti-abortion zealots. On occasion local authorities were indifferent to her plight, so an armored vest and a .38 caliber revolver became part of her clinic attire.