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most likely iraq will pay for itself,afghanistan has been going down the toilet for years somebody needed to help and again it will most likely pay for itself,putting people in jail does cost but if you did a study,how much would it cost to just let them run around.and with a little luck obama has decided that goverment healthcare isn't the right way to go and will try a different approach,where as some of the wars stopped a madman that was hell bent on killing and invading,it looks like the townhalls stopped a madman that was hell bent on bankrupting america

Only a Blockhead

Hi Ken:

I respect you for being such a loyal reader of Blockhead even though you certainly disagree with many of the opinions I express here.  Most of us (me included) tend to seek out congenial thinking while doing our best to avoid that with which might challenge our beliefs.

We've been hearing that Iraq will pay for itself since very early in the war.  The debt, however, is still, years later, growing as we speak.  I guess you are suggesting that once the Iraqi oil industry gets back on its feet Iraq will be awash in cash and will feel so grateful to the United States for invading that they (and the rather fractious Iraqi citizenry) will be happy to toss the odd $600 billion (or whatever the total has risen to by the time Iraq decides to reimburse the US) America's way.  Again, you are more optimistic than me (ever read Candide?)

Afghanistan has always been a poor country.  There is no oil there.  Other than one lucrative crop (we discussed it in an earlier post) I can't think of what Afghanistan can possibly convert into several hundred billion extra dollars (i.e. cash that won't be earmarked for the country's own needs) that they'll be happy to PayPal to the American government.

It appears that Obama is backing away from a rational approach to health care.  Too bad.  As one who has lived in a country with socialized medicine for nearly 25 years, and whose wife has had a major operation here (which healed her and didn't bankrupt us in the process), let me tell you, Ken, it works well.  Are there problems.  Sure, but they're minor compared to the drawbacks of the system of doling out medical care in the US: rationing based on income of the patients.

And what do you have against capital letters, anyway? 


well not to bruise your ego,but you were on the news and politics page,but that money that was sent to iraq kind of went poof no one knows where it went,and no i don't have it.and as far as both country's are conserned the lost money in bombings will more then make up for it in the future,who knows maybe someday you will want to vacation in afghanistan.....i don't know what country you live in but it sounds like your wife was lucky,alot of country's are keeping people in lines for years ,sometimes to many years,we have a pretty good system in this country just need to get the kinks out,no reason to start a goverment one thats always broke and offers sub-standerd care...if your wife has any more problems just bring her over here we have the most advanced care in the world..not to mention half the girls in my extended family make a pretty good living of our healthcare system..a post all kinds of places i hardly ever agree with any one a 100% but i do keep looking..

Lightfoot Letters

Understanding the left and right.

Outlawing Democrats and Republicans would be a start to understanding and simple. Just do it at the polling booth. If not, you or we, should not complain about Democrats and Republicans acting like self-serving  Democrats and Republicans. Modern Democrats are not liberals and never have been liberals. Republicans are not conservative, but in the past were liberals. Today, neither have a philosophy that can be understood, except power, control and getting elected. Which would make both authoritarian in nature, neither liberal or conservative, but buyable at the right price.

Health Care : The important point is the Federal Government has no authority to create a health care program. In fact it is the only point. That said; State, county  city governments already have created health care programs for public employees. If they want to expand these programs to cover the 3-5% that actually need help, with the vote of the citizens, they can. 
Only a Blockhead

Lightfoot Letters:

Thanks for your reply.

I didn't use the terms "Democrat" or "Republican" in the post to which you are responding because I agree with you about the essential meaninglessness of the terms
as they are employed to describe American
political groupings.  I prefer to use the terms
"left" and "right," though I do  understand that even those terms are not all that precise.  Both
"left" and "right" seem to subsume thinkers, writers, and activists of many different
stripes, and assuming it's not orthodoxy that we're after, this doesn't
seem to me necessarily a bad thing.

I slightly disagree with you about Democrats in that I think more than
a handful of party-members may actually be liberals; very few, if any, are

(I can't resist quoting Bill Maher's quip: "The Democrats have moved to
the right, and the Republicans have moved to a mental hospital.")

With regard to health care, I wonder how you can believe that "the
federal government has no authority to create a health care program." 
What are Medicare and the VA if not health care programs created,
supported, and run by the federal government?  (The cabinet level
Department of Veteran's Affairs was, in 1988, signed into existence by
a former actor named Ronald Reagan.  It's the federal government's
second largest department after the Department of Defense.) 

If the Supreme Court were to declare Medicare and the VA
unconstitutional then we could say that the federal government has no
authority to create such health care programs.  The Supreme Court has
not done so.

If Congress refuses to allocate the necessary funds for such programs
then that would effectively end them (but wouldn't necessarily say
anything about whether the federal government had the authority to
institute them in the first place).

And, for better or worse, it seems that Congress will be the ones to
decide on whether the United States will adopt a more rational approach
to health care.

Again, thanks for commenting,




what i don't get any thanks for commenting...and by the way  medicare is broke why should i trust the goverment to run a wal-mart when they can't run a lemonade stand.....oh and this just in canada's healthcare system is broke..they are trying for a more american system...thank you....and watch out for earthquakes

Only a Blockhead


Excuse my poor manners, and . . . thanks for commenting.


why,your welcome kind sir,japan healthcare,detriot seems to like it but i'm not so sure..

Lightfoot Letters

"With regard to health care, I wonder how you can believe that "the federal government has no authority to create a health care program."  The US Constitution denies the Federal Government that authority.

Bill Maher - Is that the same Bill Maher who claims he is a libertarian? That is as absurd as Maxine Waters (D) claming to be a liberal, as she is advocating nationalizing the oil companies.  But, that is a funny quote with some truth to it.

I assumed you ment D & R for left and right. That is the problem with letting politicians,  the media and public employees, especially education, destroy the meaning of the english language  for political purpose.

I prefer liberalism (libertaianism), socialism, marxism, communism, statist and authoritarian  which are fairly well defined terms in philosophy and political terms.

Equals: Democrats mostly statist and authoritarian socialist in practice. Republicans mostly liberals (libertarians) and socialists in practice.

Practical problem: Most Republicans, especially young Republicans do not understand the the concepts of natural rights, tolerance, free trade, limited government ect., which they advocate, are basic core principles of liberalism. 


Lightfoot Letters

If I may be so bold. There is a very relevant post on http://libertyviews.vox.com/ . I do not agree with all the conclusions. However, it is still very informative and thought provoking...if that is still allowed. 

Only a Blockhead

(I accidentally deleted the comment I wrote in reply to you earlier.  I'll attempt to reconstruct it here.)

Thanks for the link.  I'll have a look at it.

If you have a moment I wonder if you would mind pointing me to the section of the Constitution that denies the federal government the authority to create health care programs such as Medicare, the VA, and, perhaps, the currently debated system(s).

If such authority is not explicitly denied then it's up to the Supreme Court to interpret whatever sections of Constitution might be relevant (the tenth amendment?).  Thusfar they seem to have decided that the government does have the authority to institute, fund, and run programs such as Medicare and the VA (also Social Security).



Lightfoot Letters

US Constitution Article I, Sec. 8 denies the federal government the authority to establish entities such as Medicare, the VA, and other forms of socialized medicine. Note, the VA is a contract for services,  between the Federal Government and each citizen that serves. Not in the same category as other programs like Social Security Medicare or the Dept of  Education.

Amend. X - The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. This does not leave much to interpret. It seems clear to me that the Several States, Counties or Cities could have health care  programs and they do for public employees. It is my interpretation of the 10th Amend. that no authority exists for the Federal Government to create mandatory social security programs or  public relations programs like the Dept. of  Education. The Su. Ct. has no authority,to decide or create that, which does not exist.
Getting off subject a little.... thanks for a good post and good discussion!!

Only a Blockhead

As is so often the case with documents such as the Constitution that were written in times different and distant from our own, it is possible to read Article X in more than one way, and my reading of it is different from yours.  I would say that it clearly indicates that states do have the authority to institute, for example, health care programs (as Massachusetts has done), but I don't see where it states that the federal government couldn't also create a nationwide health care program in addition to those states that have done so. 

This sort of federal and state overlap is not unprecedented: one example of federal and state institutions existing in parallel would be the FBI along with state and city law enforcement.

It still looks to me like a job for the Supreme Court.  They're the ones whose job it is to decide in cases dealing with issues that the founders didn't or couldn't explicitly address.

And, of course, to say that a proposed government action is unconstitutional is not to say that it is necessarily a bad idea; to say that a proposed government action is constitutional is not to say that it is necessarily a good idea.  Because I think it would be a good idea for the US to have socialized medicine I want to believe that such a program would not violate the Constitution.  Perhaps one reason you are not displeased to believe that such a program would violate the Constitution is that you would oppose such a program even if you could be convinced that it didn't violate the Constitution?
And yes, thank you for the good discussion. The temptation to be snarky is always there (and I can be as snarky as the worst of them), but one sure learns a lot more in exchanges such as this one where each speaker treats the other with respect, and neither speaker raises his or her voice.




[this is good] There is a long-standing definition that a conservative wants the government out of your wallet and into your bedroom, whilst a liberal wants the government out of your bedroom and into your wallet [1]. Over the past few decades, teh two appear to have hybridized so that we have a government that wants into both, but is unwilling to admit it.


[1] In contrast to the other famous definition: A conservative is a liberal who has just been mugged, and a liberal is a conservative who has just been arrested.

Only a Blockhead


Thanks for your comment. It made me grin.



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Books David Finished in 2022

  • Celestin, Ray: The Axeman

    Celestin, Ray: The Axeman
    A novel about a serial killer in which Louis Armstrong is a character seemed a bit too precious. I finally succumbed, though, when I learned that the fourth novel in the quartet of which this is the first is set in Los Angeles, and is reputed to be a tour de force. The good news is that Satchmo (still "Lil Lewis" in this novel) is a minor, albeit well-done, character who doesn't distract from the other denizens of the novel's New Orleans, the well-executed plot, or the exquisite prose of author Ray Celestin. I'm looking forward to continuing through the quartet, each book of which takes place in a different city, each a stop in the migrations of the African diaspora in North America.

  • Adair, Gilbert: A Closed Book

    Adair, Gilbert: A Closed Book
    I nearly closed this book (ahem) halfway through, but just a page or two after the halfway point the penny dropped. Once I got what Adair was doing he had me. One wishes Hitchcock was still around to make a film of this, though so much takes place on the page it wouldn't have been an easy translation.It's the story of a writer who is not only blind but eyeless and the amanuensis he hires to help him complete what he believes will be his last book. But maybe the helper is not only there to help. And maybe he's not the only one recording the writer's words.

  • Twight, Mark F.: Poison: Sermons on Suffering
    I hate self-help books, and really, the whole concept of "self-help" as it seems generally to be understood, so I could try to finesse this by calling Poison a book of essays or philosophy. I wouldn't be lying if I did, but Twight's pieces *are* essays that are intended to help people live better lives, so yeah, self-help, I guess. What enabled me to make my way through more than 400 pages of these sermons? First, I admire the author, Mark Twight, a world-renowned climber. I respect what he did in the mountains, which was, as he boils it down, trying to see how light he could go. He also explored how long he—and by extension, we—could go, climbing continuously for 24, then 40, then 60 hours, breaking records and nabbing first ascents along the way. I find this sort of achievement easier to admire than the qualifications that self-help gurus usually boast (gave a TedX talk, got a YouTube Creator award . . . ). Then there's the fact that Twight is not about offering easy answers—all you have to do is: get rid of a bunch of stuff, quit eating gluten, sit on a cushion and space out for fifteen minutes a day, journal every morning . . . . He says stuff like: "Sometimes I get sick. / Mostly other people make me sick. / They don't give me germs. / They give me poison. / They poison me with their excuses.Their laziness. They want the result without the work. / They believe their desire can change the nature of things. / Just because they want it. / Suddenly." Those last three lines sound a lot like the advise of a lot self-help hucksters, all those Deepak Chopraites and believers in "The Secret." I like that Twight is as disgusted with that sort of guff as I am. I like the way that Twight tells his truths, too: "Style is the man himself," as some Frenchman said. I may have mentioned in my review of Twight's Kiss or Kill that he's very much school of Bukowski as filtered through punk rock (the soundtrack for many of his climbs). Finally, though Twight is much more goal-driven than me, and his goals are not mine, his advice is sensible and bracing in its harshness: Not clean your room or—Lord pickle and preserve me—make your bed, but push yourself harder than you have ever pushed yourself, harder than you ever believed you could push yourself. That's inspiring and maybe helpful advice.
  • Johnson, Joyce: Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir

    Johnson, Joyce: Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir
    This is a much better book about the Beat milieu than On the Road. I'm glad that Johnson never took Kerouac's advice that she shouldn't revise, and that her model as a writer was James (Henry) and not Jack. The memoir does lag a bit when she's recounting the year-and-a-half or so that she was involved with Kerouac. That's how profoundly uninteresting he is. That she never really calls him out for being the shit that he was says a lot for her maturity and balance. It may also speak to Kerouac's charisma: he does seem to have charmed a lot of people.

  • Kerouac, Jack: On the Road (Penguin Modern Classics)

    Kerouac, Jack: On the Road (Penguin Modern Classics)
    The great mystery is why this mediocre book is so widely loved by so many people who should know better. The prose, for all Kerouac's blathering on about his technique, or lack thereof, is profoundly uninteresting. (It's telling that fans who quote from this book always quote the same line: "The only people that interest me . . . .") The "minor characters" as Joyce Johnson in her much better book of that title might have called them—women, Mexicans, Blacks, country people—are patronized, and for all the furious trips back and forth across the country, the novel is strangely static. A friend recently remarked that it really belongs in the YA section, but even there it would be outclassed. Beat poetry > Beat prose.

  • Sayers, Dorothy L.: Clouds of Witness: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries)

    Sayers, Dorothy L.: Clouds of Witness: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries)
    Two books in and Harriet Vane has yet to appear. I don't know if her appearance will make the books better or worse. I seem to dislike English jocular slightly less than I have in the past.

  • Doolittle, Hilda: Helen in Egypt: Poetry (New Directions Books)

    Doolittle, Hilda: Helen in Egypt: Poetry (New Directions Books)
    Quality mysteries, thrillers, and science fiction; Victorian novels; high modernist poetry and fiction: This is how my taste runs these days. H.D.'s anti-epic, Helen in Egypt, falls into the last category, and is profoundly satisfying for the way it draws us into the mysteries that Helen, in the poem, attempts to unravel. Among these conundrums: was she present at Troy, how did she end up in Egypt, why did Achilles attempt to strangle her when—maybe—they were already dead. H.D.'s imagism owes more to tanka than to Tennyson and is all the better for that. The language dances and sings without recourse to crude devices. It's worth a reread, another reread, and a deep-dive into the criticism. I'm glad I talked my graduate student into focusing on this.

  • Cherryh, C. J.: Inheritor (Foreigner series Book 3)

    Cherryh, C. J.: Inheritor (Foreigner series Book 3)
    The third in the series satisfies, but as its ending is in no way conclusive it's not a surprise to find that the series goes on (and on and on). I'm not complaining. I'll probably continue, though not right away, mostly because the characters, even the non-human ones, are engaging. That I still can't really get a grasp of Atevi politics is not enough to deter me. I'm pretty sure the protagonist, through whose consciousness we experience this world, doesn't entirely get them either. (And yes, another cheesy cover.)

  • Nguyen, Viet Thanh: The Sympathizer: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)

    Nguyen, Viet Thanh: The Sympathizer: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
    This book came out in 2015. It’s sequel came out last year. I read a review that made me want to read that sequel, but figured I’d better read the first volume first. The result of doing so is that I probably won’t go on to read the sequel. The Sympathizer is okay, perceptive about life as a divided person and life in the Vietnamese refugee community, but somehow, at this late date, the perceptions don’t seem terribly fresh. I become increasingly convinced that contemporary literary fiction is just not for me.

  • le Carré, John: Call for the Dead: A George Smiley Novel

    le Carré, John: Call for the Dead: A George Smiley Novel
    A favorite author, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, wrote an excellent article about John le Carré in which he convinced me that I really should delve into the work of that legendary writer more deeply than I had. I'm glad he did. His protagonist, the ironically named Smiley, is a marvelous protagonist: intelligent, morose, erudite, and depressed: He is human. Through Smiley we revisit the Cold War: Russia and East Germany are enemies, but communism is not without its attractions. The game is afoot, and Smiley, in his plodding way, is in the thick of it. I'm glad there are several more books in the series.

Books Julian Read Recently

  • Evan S. Connell: Mrs Bridge

    Evan S. Connell: Mrs Bridge
    Set between the World Wars, written in the 1950s, a knowing, affectionate look back at the life and thoughts of a Kansas City country-club matron, mother and “office widow” (husband barely home), told through day-to-day vignettes. It reminded me quite a lot of my own childhood and upbringing (UK 1950s). (***)

  • Jonathan Franzen: Crossroads

    Jonathan Franzen: Crossroads
    Midwest US, early 1970s. A middle-class family--pastor father, enabling mother, kids Clem, Becky, Perry, Judson--navigate the counterculture and the religious beliefs offered as guides to the chaos of life, then as now. Intriguingly labyrinthine construction; penetrating psychological analysis. Funny, empathetic, thought provoking, unpredictable, smoothly and simply readable, Crossroads is a thing of beauty. (*****)

  • William Trevor: The Collected Stories

    William Trevor: The Collected Stories
    Over 1000 pages of nearly 100 short stories about ordinary people written from the 1960s to 1980s and set almost without exception in contemporary times. Characters are drawn with realism and depth. Stories, equally realistic, hold the interest and frequently surprise. Many are set in rural Ireland and I don’t know if they show their age. The very few that include gay male characters exhibit stereotypes, thankfully outdated now but a reflection of their times. I thank Elisabeth Strout for recommending Trevor, and indeed their work shares acuity, veracity, and extraordinary compassion. They are both gifted storytellers, and a great pleasure to read. (***)

  • Ann Patchett: The Dutch House

    Ann Patchett: The Dutch House
    A story about an extraordinary house, a brother and sister’s relationship, and the vagaries of family life in postwar, middle-class America. Upon that skeleton, Patchett lays characters and story arcs of great verisimilitude. Gorgeously constructed, mostly engrossing, finally moving, this is a deeply satisfying read. (****)

  • Anne Tyler: Redhead by the Side of the Road

    Anne Tyler: Redhead by the Side of the Road
    To me, this slight story of the day-to-day life of a middle-aged man in contemporary suburban US was as one-note and clunky as the main character. Either I missed out, or author not on form. (Great [and misleading] noir-ish title!) (*)

  • Kate Atkinson: Life After Life

    Kate Atkinson: Life After Life
    A family lives through and between the World Wars. It’s a loving portrait of middle-class England, and it is pitch-perfect in capturing the arch, entitled, yet entirely benign banter of the middle classes before they found out in the 1960s that they were no longer unchallenged top dog. Most of all, this novel is an extraordinary tour-de-force of structure. It’s wise, wryly funny, and a great pleasure to read. Pleasure as in satisfaction rather than joy--the vivid recreation of the horror of both the WWII London Blitz and the fall of Berlin gives a sense of how it must be for some in Ukraine at this moment. (*****)

  • Lauren Groff: Matrix

    Lauren Groff: Matrix
    An odd book. It’s a bildungsroman of a medieval woman of royal birth who is sent to a nunnery, but after that it gets contrary. It’s religious and agnostic; realistic and mystical; spiritual and carnal, historical and modern…. Most of all it’s feminist in a wonderfully eye-opening (to this male) way. I began the novel with no particular interest in the characters, but the author clearly loves them so much that she only wishes good for them. That unusual generosity entirely won me over. At the end, I moved the book off my lap so tears would not stain it. If I may be contrary as well, a three-star masterpiece. (***)

  • Oliver Burkeman: Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use it

    Oliver Burkeman: Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use it
    I always enjoy Oliver Burkeman’s self-help suggestions, often eye-opening and helpful, always deftly delivered with humor. His latest book, purportedly about time management, is actually an examination of how to manage life as a human. It guides us through our mistaken beliefs about time and our relation to it, and the counter-productive thought patterns and actions we take as a result. It doesn’t stop there: Burkeman shines a light on the calm, creative, loving space that appears when we face the realities of human life. I am grateful for the many valuable insights, plus it’s an easy, fun read. File this one under “Practical Philosophy.” (*****)

  • Elizabeth Strout: Oh William!

    Elizabeth Strout: Oh William!
    New York: a recent widow relates her memories of a former husband as they discover family secrets in rural Maine. Just as you must master representational art to be able to make abstract, you must be a solid conventional writer to write as artlessly as the narrator of Oh William! It continues Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible, but can stand alone as well. It is most pleasurable for its razor-sharp psychological observation, and for the vulnerability of characters we can empathize with. A delight to read. (****)

  • Khaled Hosseini: And the Mountains Echoed

    Khaled Hosseini: And the Mountains Echoed
    Absorbing, kaleidoscopic account of family relationships over several generations, centered on Afghanistan falling into chaos. Psychologically acute, epic in scope, the ending moved me to tears. (****)

Books Mark read recently

  • Scanlan, Kathryn: The Dominant Animal: Stories

    Scanlan, Kathryn: The Dominant Animal: Stories
    This is a book of super-short fiction. Of the 40 or so stories, most are less than two pages. Nothing in the writing here is beautiful or kind, but somehow I whizzed thought it all. Some stories leave out points that would have made them more accessible. What the heck happened? A lot of the stories end on a sudden whim of observation and leave one wanting to read more. Most of the stories focus on a negative experience with a male, with strange detail, and after finishing a story, I often wanted to take a hot shower to get clean. I did enjoy "Design for a Carpet" and "Mother's Teeth." (**)

  • Woodrell, Daniel: Woe to Live On: A Novel

    Woodrell, Daniel: Woe to Live On: A Novel
    Confederate soldiers on a journey to fight Yankees in Missouri and Kansas. Woodrell's voice in this novel is similar to Cormac McCarthy's. Lots of brutal killing and torture and the story seems to float along on southern dialog and an internal monologue of fear by the speaker. There are moments of occasional humanity, but for the most part the plot is a thin gruel of spilt blood, wandering, waiting, and revenge. (***)

  • Munro, Alice: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

    Munro, Alice: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
    There are three standout stories in this very fine collection by Alice Munro. She has a real knack for creating a variety of believable characters. The title story was my favorite: two teenagers pull a sour trick resulting in a surprising ending. In the story "Queenie" we see a young woman scrambling to make her way in the world, using a bad marriage as a way to make some progress. The final story, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" veers off into occasional long-winded reflection, as one man struggles with the loss of his wife to Alzheimer's. Munro is a master story teller. (*****)

  • Waters, Sarah: Fingersmith

    Waters, Sarah: Fingersmith
    Sarah Waters: Fingersmith Such a good story: the get rich scheme of a handsome scoundrel twists and turns into... Two women in the story are quite duped into role playing. A lot of playful sex is talked about, but not much happens in the way of happiness or fulfillment. As always, Waters is right on target with the voices and the atmosphere in this London area thriller. (*****)

  • Barry, Sebastian: The Temporary Gentleman: A Novel

    Barry, Sebastian: The Temporary Gentleman: A Novel
    What a sad story. This novel takes place on the Gold Coast in Africa, where an Irish soldier/engineer recounts his life growing up near Galway and Sligo. Back and forth we go between Ireland and Africa. Like an unseen shadow, in Ireland, what slays the characters in this novel is alcohol. Back in Africa, the memories of the homeland, and the attempt at living again are equally daunting foes. Excellent story telling. (****)

  • Donna Tartt: The Little Friend

    Donna Tartt: The Little Friend
    Donna Tartt's second novel does not disappoint. The story of a young girl, Harriet, who seeks to revenge the death of her brother, Robin. The backdrop is a small town in Mississippi, and the goings on of 4 or 5 sisters, whose lives all changed with the murder of young Robin; hung from a tree. Harriet wants to solve the mystery. Who killed him? She gathers clues, and encounters the wrath of the local druggies. Quite a page-turner, and like Tartts' other two novels almost nothing is left out or glossed over. There were times in the novel where I felt her writing fell short; places where I couldn't actually see what was happening from the writing, as is the case when she encounters the villainous brother, Danny Ratliff on top of the water tower. The writing perspective seemed off (who was where and when?) as a battle ensued. But one is so caught up in the narrative we read on and on. Also, who is the little friend who is suggested in the title? Harriet? Hey? Robin? I don't think it is the best title she could have thought of for such a wonderful and awful story. (****)

  • Strout, Elizabeth: Olive, Again: A Novel

    Strout, Elizabeth: Olive, Again: A Novel
    A wonderful sequel to an earlier collection of stories, Olive Kitteridge. Clearly, Strout is a masterful writer; each of the characters in her stories I can see clearly in my mind. These stories span Olive's life from middle-age to old-age, with thoughtfulness, kindness, reflection, and regret. In a general way of summing up, this collection tells us that life sends us problems that are most times not of our own making-- and that we do our best with what we have to work with, and what we think is best to do at the time. The prevalence of loneliness that comes with old age is a dominant theme in the later stories here. Read this book. (*****)

  • Strout, Elizabeth: Olive Kitteridge

    Strout, Elizabeth: Olive Kitteridge
    It's been more than a few years since I first read this wonderful collection of stories. As a prelude to reading her next collection, Olive, Again, I read these stories again. Wonderful insight into a community in Crosby, Maine and how they encounter each other. Henry and Olive Kitteridge function as the main characters, and each story includes them if in even a small way. Prior to my second reading, my favorite story was The Piano Player, but this time I enjoyed Incoming Tide most. Her stories can veer into a local gossipy mode, yet there is always tension lurking in the next sentence. (*****)

  • Alan Hollinghurst: The Folding Star: A Novel

    Alan Hollinghurst: The Folding Star: A Novel
    Edward Manners goes to Belgium to teach English to two boys who are getting below average marks in high school. When not teaching, he helps out at a museum focused on a Jewish painter who was hidden from the Nazis during WWII. Manners falls in love with one of his students, and a lively adventure ensues as Manners undertakes to seduce him. The narrative is fun, at times cynical of gay life, and there is a lot of sex. One also learns a good deal of personal history of growing up in post-war England and Belgium. Hollinghurst is a brilliant writer, and I learned many new words. (*****)

  • Alison Moore: The Pre-War House and Other Stories

    Alison Moore: The Pre-War House and Other Stories
    After reading the Booker Prize nominated The Lighthouse, I was excited to read this earlier collection of 24 short stories from Alison Moore. They are a little underwhelming; as if written by a grad student. Moore is great at creating tension and awkward scenes. She is an artist when painting a picture of place and atmosphere. Some stories are creepy, and one longs for a hot bath. However, I found them to be a bit formulaic. By the third or fourth story, I was keeping my eyes open for the one clue in the narrative that I would return to in climactic ending sentences. I like Moor's sparse style, and I will read more of her work (written after The Lighthouse) in the future. (***)

Films Julian Watched Recently

  • Maggie's Plan
    New York intelligentsia tragicomically fall in and out of love. Pithy observation and spicy dialog echoing back-in-the-day Woody Allen, but from the women’s point of view. Julianne Moore is a standout. Sags a little in the middle, but basically a delight. (DVD) (****)
  • Licorice Pizza
    Rambling self-indulgent slice of it’s-funny-‘cos-it’s-true about growing up white and or Jewish in LA in the 1970s, a time when men felt entitled to behave even more shittily than they do now. Unfocused. Overlong. Mostly likeable. (**)
  • Encanto
    This Disney animation is a modern fairy tale for all ages set in Colombia, South America, with fun characters and catchy music. I think the moral is “be yourself.” Frenetic enough to require multiple viewings. (DVD) (***)
  • Top Gun Maverick
    Summer 2022’s premier popcorn movie (we noted a lot of popcorn in the audience) works in itself as a nail-biting actioner with an emotional story. It works as a sequel reprise of the story and the action. And IMAX might just pull you in so you actually forget where you are…. For this winning celebration of summer and its movies, we thank ageless Tom Cruise and the 10,000 people the credits tell us worked on this. (*****)
  • C'mon C'mon
    This is a weird one. If there’s a story, it’s a man trying to take care of his sister’s out-of-control kid. It seems largely improvised, and is spliced with quotations from books, and documentary-style sound-bites of young people talking about life and speculating about the future. Joaquin Phoenix’ acting has been tainted for me by his over-the-top turn as the Joker. The whole seemed an empty exercise, and it was difficult to watch a kid being unhappily contrary. P.S. For some reason, it’s in black-and-white. P.P.S. The friends I watched it with all loved it. (Streaming) (*)

Things NC Consumed Recently

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
    More than forty years on since my last reading, this classic novel is remarkable not so much for its romantic longings as for its emphasis on American violence, its depiction of a country in which California hardly matters and its meeting of the Mid West and East Coast. Plus its succinct nine chapters, its elegant prose and its almost noirish tone: Tom breaking Myrtle's nose would seem to foreshadow Lee Marvin throwing hot coffee in Gloria Grahame's face in The Big Heat - and the use of flashbacks helps too. I'd like to thank the publicity for the recent film version and my current cold for sending me back to the novel (and my young self).
  • Isabelle Eberhardt
    In 1904, Isabelle Eberhardt drowned in the desert, leaving behind, among other things, various writings in French (a novel, travel notes, a journal, short stories), Islam, Lake Geneva, a husband, debauchery in kif, sex and alcohol, and a small collection of male clothing, which she wore habitually, along with her man's name. The lazy say she was an early hippie, because of her nomadic, hedonistic life, and being the first one to die at 27. Lindqvist has her in a line from Villon, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Celine and Genet. Her story can only get stranger and more fascinating. "In The Shadow of Islam", "The Passionate Nomad", "The Oblivion Seekers" and Annette Kobak's biography are one way in. You'll find there an apt fatal romanticism for vast desert spaces and a depiction of Islam to ponder. Among other things.
  • Listen to Britain - Humphrey Jennings
    Terence Davies is surely right to say Listen to Britain is in part an attempt to define the nation on the eve of its being invaded. But that invasion never came. A little prematurely, Humphrey Jennings's film records what left later, with something messier, less defined usurping through the back door. Terence Davies is surely right to say Listen to Britain is one of the greatest things these islands have produced.
  • Patience (After Sebald)
    Grant Gee's documentary uses a palette of pale black and white, maps and talking heads to comment on W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, an account of his walk through Suffolk. Unlike the book, where a variety of genres (and photographs) coheres to make a recognisable whole, the film suffers slightly from a lack of direction. It is too specific to serve as an introduction and lacks an overriding arc that might describe a thesis. However, with its archival footage, interviews with the author and shots of the route taken, it is essential viewing for those already in thrall to all things Sebaldian - even if the ending, alas, veers close to Conan Doyle and fairies-in-the-garden territory.
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