Notes on Books I’ve Recently Read

My Life in Court

Louis Nizer (1902 – 1994) was a prominent attorney who was a litigant in many famous trials.  He wrote a book, My Life in Court (1961), about some of those cases and it was on the New York Times bestsellers list for an amazing 72 weeks.  It should be required reading for all attorneys.  His advice on what to do and what to avoid in a trial is worth the cost of tuition to any law school you care to name.  His actions demonstrate that even the best known attorney in the world needs to research every aspect of every case – even if he must suffer through many sleepless nights.  Nizer’s action followed Thomas Edison’s saying that, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

My Life in Court recounts the stories of half a dozen of his most memorable cases.  None is more fascinating that the libel suit that the war correspondent Quentin Reynolds brought against columnist Westbrook Pegler and the Hurst newspaper organization that published Pegler’s scathing rants.

Pegler accused Reynolds of being a coward.  He said that Reynolds was an absentee war correspondent who covered World War II from a safe distance, and fled from danger whenever he could.  He also accused Reynolds of “nuding around” with various people, and of embarrassing a woman when he rose completely nude from the water in front of a boat she was riding in alone.  When Reynolds instituted his lawsuit, Pegler printed more charges against him, and actively tried to convince potential employers to shun him.

Every charge that Pegler made was proven false.  Quentin Reynolds was beloved by the reporters who covered World War II with him, and lionized by the military men who dealt with him.  Pegler’s charge of Reynold’s indecent behavior before the woman in the boat was absolutely refuted by her in court.  She also testified that she couldn’t swim and would never have been alone in a boat. Even more damning to Pegler’s case than her testimony were the photos of Reynolds wrapped up in clothing to keep the sun from shining on him because he was literally allergic to direct sunlight. The jury saw the truth and made the largest award in a libel trial up to that time.  And it was a judgment against both Pegler and the Hearst organization.

During the trial Nizer brought to light some actions by Pegler that made him look like the one who should have been derided in print.  While building a gorgeous country house for himself, using materials that were scarce due to the war, he was publicly urging his readers to detach the metal bumpers from their cars and to donate the metal toward the war effort.  He also claimed (for tax purposes) that his country home was actually a farm.  Nizer proved that it wasn’t and that Pegler had zero knowledge of farming.  Pegler was cowed, but remained defiant.

Nizer’s cases were very diverse.  In one he was the plaintiff’s attorney in a plagiarism lawsuit against comedian Morey Amsterdam and others.  It concerned the popular Calypso song “Rum and Coca-Cola” which was a huge hit for the Andrews Sisters in 1945.  In that case Nizer had to go into great detail about music theory and composition in order to prove his client’s case.  Imagine having a deep discussion with a hostile music expert about each note in a song while the jury and everyone else in the courtroom listens in.  There was no room for error, and Nizer didn’t need any.

In each of the cases in his book, Nizer presents vast amounts of trial testimony and explains his strategy to the reader as he goes along.  He demonstrates patience when he must and becomes an aggressive questioner when that is appropriate.  He is like a chess player: carefully planning his moves and reacting cautiously but decisively to his opponent’s actions.  Time and time again, his opponents underestimate him to their sorrow.  My Life in Court is as riveting as any book or movie you’ll ever encounter about courtroom action.

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It Can't Happen Here

I recently read two novels written by Sinclair Lewis, and they couldn’t be more different.

Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, has received a lot of attention recently as an example of the great dystopian.  I think that Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here is much more realistic than Atwood’s novel.  In Lewis’ novel Franklin D. Roosevelt is defeated in the 1936 election by Senator Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip who is a charismatic populist with dictatorial tendencies.  Doremus Jessup is a small town newspaper owner who opposes Windrip’s policies.  With terrible consequences for himself and his family, Jessup quickly incurs the wrath of a paramilitary group that supports Windrip.  Jessup then joins an underground group that opposes Windrip and his policies, but that has some harrowing results as well.  This is a truly scary novel.

“Babbitt: a smugly narrow and conventional person interested chiefly in business and social success; Philistine.”  That is a great description of George Babbitt the protagonist of Sinclair Lewis’ 1922 satirical novel  Babbitt.  (In fact, Lewis’ novel gave us the word Babbitt.)  George Babbitt is shallow.  He’s a nice guy, but he “goes along to get along.”  He is a realtor who subscribes to the prevailing thinking even when it means that he’ll charge someone more for a property than it’s worth.  “Everybody does it” could be his mantra.  Babbitt, unlike It Can’t Happen Here, has very little action.  As H. L. Mencken wrote, “There is no plot whatever, and very little of the hocus-pocus commonly called development of character.  Babbitt simply grows two years older as the tale unfolds. . .”  (Mencken didn’t like Lewis’ Main Street either.  In fact, he claimed that, “. . . Babbitt is at least twice as good a novel as Main Street. . .”)

It seems to me that Babbitt is a minor novel compared to It Can’t Happen Here, yet Lewis was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1930 based on that novel alone.  Of course It Can’t Happen Here was not written until five years later, so the Committee couldn’t compare the two.  Perhaps Babbitt is a masterpiece and I just don’t get it.  Still, if you choose to read only one of the two novels mentioned here, I strongly suggest that you read It Can’t Happen Here.

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I enjoy reading the early works of well-known authors to compare the quality of their early and later works.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) was Agatha Christie’s first novel.  It is most notable for introducing the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot who uses his tiny gray cells to  solve crimes.  Poirot’s occasional sidekick, Captain Arthur Hastings, narrates the adventure much as Dr. John Watson narrated the adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  Hastings and Watson are equally clueless and befuddled.  (Hugh Fraser, who played Hastings in the British Poirot series opposite David Suchet’s Poirot, narrates the audio book.)  The plot revolves around a man who was poisoned.  Christie, for the first of many times, was able to use the knowledge of poisons that she gained while working in a pharmacy during part of World War I.

The Secret Adversary (1922) was Agatha Christie’s second novel.  It introduces Tommy and Tuppence, a young couple who decide to become amateur detectives.  Their given names are Thomas Beresford and Prudence Cowley.  It’s never made clear why Prudence is nicknamed Tuppence.  The novel is overflowing with unlikely, near catastrophes for the heroes, but we must remember that Christie was just starting out.  Like Poirot, Tommy and Tuppence would reappear in Christie’s stories many times during her long, productive life.

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Out of the Flames

Out of the Flames: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, a Fatal Heresy and One of the Rarest Books in the World (2003) by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone is a remarkable story that centers on the Spanish polymath Michael Servetus (1509 or 1511 – 1553) who is considered the father of Unitarianism (and the first person to accurately describe how blood circulates in our bodies).  The Goldstones take numerous detours from Servetus’ story to tell us about people and events that are, in some way, related to the main story.  Under less capable authors those diversions could have been terribly tedious, but because of the Goldstone’s skill, they add tremendously to the overall story.

For instance, Servetus wrote a number of books – some of which would be used to prove him a heretic – so the authors tell us about Johannes Gutenberg, his invention of the printing press, and his troubled life.  We also learn a lot about the tenacious and vindictive John Calvin who would go to any length to destroy his enemies – and Servetus was one of Calvin’s most hated enemies.  Another figure who is discussed in detail is the equally tenacious Ignatius Loyola, the mirror image of Calvin in religious beliefs, who founded the Society of Jesus – the Jesuits.   “Protestants and Catholics—Calvinists and Jesuits—dug ecclesiastical trenches, two great armies prepared to pound it out.  And they did,” say the authors, “in one of the bloodiest and most barbaric centuries in human history.”

Religious turmoil was only one upsetting element of the times.  Another was the scientific progress made by people like Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, and Robert Hooke because many felt that their faith and the very existence of God were coming into question as scientific advances were made.

Out of the Flames is one of the few books to which I have given five stars. You might think that I’m prejudiced because its subject is something that appeals to me, but an incredible 91 percent of those who posted Amazon reviews of the book awarded it either four or five stars.  It’s definitely worth reading.

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Watership Down

Both of the novels below take place in England and are considered books for children, but I think the second is a lot deeper than the first and would appeal to many adults.

The Railway Children (1906) by Edith Nesbit is a beautiful story for children.  It begins when some men come to the apartment of a family in London and insist that the father leave with them.  When he doesn’t return, the three children ask their mother what has happened, but she refuses to tell them anything.  Soon, due to financial hardship, the family is forced to move to a small country cottage.  That’s where the children’s adventures begin.  The coincidences are more than a little too convenient, but children would hardly find this off-putting.  Eventually the children ingratiate themselves to many people – including a mysterious elderly man who rides a train that passes on a railroad track near their home – and the mystery of their father’s disappearance is solved.  Ultimately, their father returns, and all is well.

Watership Down (1972) by Richard Adams is another book that children will enjoy.  It started out as a story that Adams made up for his two daughters as he drove them to school.  It might never have been written down if Adams hadn’t become frustrated with a children’s book he was reading.  Throwing the book against the wall, he declared that he could write a better book than that.  And so he did.

The two main characters in the book are rabbits who are brothers.  Fiver has the ability to occasionally see into the future, but his older brother, Hazel, is often the only one who believes Fiver’s predictions.  When Fiver becomes convinced that death stalks their warren, he insists that the rabbits evacuate immediately.  Unfortunately, only Hazel and a few other male rabbits leave with Fiver.  They set out for an unknown destination that Fiver vaguely sees as a safe haven.  Along the way they have many adventures, and after they get there they decide that they must find some females for their new warren.  That’s when the most interesting part of the book begins.

We don’t think of rabbits as being violent, but these rabbits become so on many occasions.  The leader of a rival rabbit warren is absolutely vicious even when it’s not necessary.  That’s the only aspect of the book that I think would upset young children.

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Life on the Mississippi

Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi (1883) is the latest One Book One Community selection of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library system.  Mark Twain is always a good choice, but this book is particularly appealing because it combines history, memoir, and tall tales – along with Twain’s unique humor which surfaces in whatever he is writing about.

He gives us a history of the Mississippi River and details about the towns and cities on its shores; he talks about his years as a “cub” pilot on the river boats and tells tales (both true and made-up) about life on the river.  He describes the ever-changing hazards to the boats, and the dangers of navigating the river at night in the time when you only had moonlight to illuminate the river ahead.  He describes the hairpin turns in the river that got cut through at times (thus considerably shortening the distance between river towns), and teaches us respect for the river pilots who had to know every bend, sandbar, snag, and bank landmark in the 1,000 plus miles of the mighty Mississippi.  You wonder how they could possibly have kept everything straight in their minds, but they had to, and did.

Twain talks about his boyhood in Hannibal, Missouri and about a trip home he made 30 years or so after he left it.  Not only are most of the townspeople he meets strangers to him, but he finds out that many of his boyhood acquaintances are dead or have had pretty sad lives.  The funniest thing to me is his realization that girls he knew when he was a boy are now grandmothers.

Twain often seems to randomly jump from one subject to another, so don’t be surprised to find him giving you river history on one page and telling a tall tale on the next.

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BUtterfield 8 (1935) by John O’Hara is a book we discussed in my Reading the Classics book club.  It’s the story of Gloria Wandrous an amoral young woman who lives in New York City in the early part of the twentieth century.  She is impetuous and seemingly addicted to the “fast life.”  The novel is full of sex, drugs, and violence, and O’Hara is shockingly frank about all of them.  It’s surprising that O’Hara wasn’t censored for the frankness of his writing.  For example, Gloria has an affair with a married man in his wife’s bedroom while his wife is out of town (alarm bells should go off at that), and Gloria leaves the next morning in the wife’s expensive fur coat when she discovers that her lover (now gone off to work) has ripped her party dress while getting it off of her the night before.  Gloria doesn’t seem to know or care that her actions have consequences.

There is nothing uplifting in BUtterfield 8.  Frankly, John O’Hara’s writings are full of depressing people and situations as far as I’m concerned, but the stories are definitely interesting.

You might also be interested in the 1960 film version of BUtterfield 8 that starred Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey, and Eddie Fisher (who Taylor had recently married). I doubt that portraying Gloria Wandrous was much of a stretch for Taylor.

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Talking About Books . . .

Born to Run

Most authors never make enough money to quit their day jobs and write full time.  Others, including a few politicians and musicians, make more money with one book deal than most of us would earn in multiple lifetimes.  Here are 10 of the most lucrative book deals of all time.

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Who was Evelyn Wood, and what self-help craze did she start? A Guardian article provides the answer and lots of valuable information.

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Should we learn about authors’ lives before we read their works of fiction?  Some people argue that literary works should stand on their own merits while others believe that knowing about authors’ lives gives us invaluable insights into the meaning of their works.  Does knowing about the life of Charles Dickens (especially his early childhood) help us to understand why he wrote the novels he wrote?  On the other hand, would knowing more about the life of William Shakespeare add to our understanding and appreciation of his plays?  Believe it or not, there is debate – even among authors – about the answer to those questions.  “Bookends,” a feature in The New York Times book section was devoted to this issue a few years ago.

“The Private Life,” a short story by Henry James is mentioned in the Times article.  Read the short story here.

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The Underground Railroad

The 2017 Pulitzer Prizes in journalism, letters, drama and music have been announced.  All of the winners in those categories (along with a brief explanation as to why they were chosen) can be found at the Pulitzer website.  You will also find a list of the finalists for each award and links to the Pulitzer awards for previous years.

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Fans of The X-Files TV series are in for a treat.  On July 18 Audible Studios will release an  audiobook featuring the original stars of the TV series, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, in a new X-Files case.  Some information on the upcoming audiobook is available in a Vulture article and additional information is available at Audible.

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Did you ever wonder where authors get their inspirations for the settings of their novels?  Bustle shows us nine places that inspired famous novels.

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the Immortal Life

The incomparable Oprah Winfrey is turning Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks into a movie for HBO.  Winfrey recently discussed the project in an interview with NBC.

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On April 26 an adaptation of Margaret Atwoods dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale will begin airing as a series on Hulu.  The book’s author and Elisabeth Moss, the star of the Hulu series, recently sat down to discuss the project for Time magazine. You can watch a trailer for the series here.

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The tragic marriage of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes is once more in the news with the discovery of some letters that Plath wrote to her therapist.  The last of the letters was written exactly a week before she committed suicide at the age of 30.  A Guardian article about the letters – and much, much more – is a must-read for all Plath fans.

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Quotes of Note

“I do not wish to be ungrateful to Holmes, who has been a good friend to me in many ways. If I have sometimes been inclined to weary of him it is because his character admits of no light or shade. He is a calculating machine and anything you add to that simply weakens the effect. . . . I would say a word for Watson also, who in the course of seven volumes never shows one gleam of humor or makes one single joke. To make a real character one must sacrifice everything to consistency and remember Goldsmith’s criticism of Johnson that, ‘he could make the little fishes talk like whales.’ ” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle commenting on his creations, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson

“Dr. Watson doesn’t write to you, he talks to you, with Edwardian courtesy, across a glowing fire. His voice has no barriers or affectations. It is clear, energetic and decent, the voice of a tweedy, no-nonsense colonial Britisher at ease with himself.  Its owner is travelled.  He has knocked about, as they say, browned his knees.  Yet he remains an innocent abroad.  He is a first-class chap, loyal to a fault, brave as a lion, and the salt of the earth.  All the clichés fit him.  But he is not a cliché.

“Finer feelings confuse Dr. Watson.  He is a stranger to art.  Yet, like his creator, he is one of the greatest story-tellers the world has ever listened to.  On the rare occasions he leaves the stage to Holmes, we long for him to return.  Holmes–mercurial, brilliant, complex, turbulent Holmes–is not safe out there alone.  Oh, he manages.  He can dissemble, go underground, disguise himself to the point where his own mother wouldn’t know him, he can act dead or dying, trawl opium dens, wrestle with Moriarty on a cliff’s edge, or dupe the Kaiser’s spy.  But none of that changes the fact that when he is alone, he is only half the fellow he becomes the moment faithful Watson takes back the tale.” – John Le Carré in the Introduction of Leslie S. Klinger’s two volume annotated collection of the stories of Sherlock Holmes

 “We open our mouths and out flow words whose ancestries we do not even know. We are walking lexicons. In a single sentence of idle chatter we preserve Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norse: we carry a museum inside our heads, each day we commemorate peoples of whom we have never heard.” – Penelope Lively [not related to me, unfortunately], Moon Tiger

 “When asked how I would like to be remembered, I always say, for about five minutes.” – Actor Martin Sheen

“Make haste slowly” (“Festina lente”) – Ancient Adage

“Revenge is sweet and not fattening.” – Alfred Hitchcock

“The last person to say that to me was Archie Leach, just before I cut his throat.” – Cary Grant’s character in the 1940 film His Girl Friday [It’s an inside joke.  Grant was born Archibald Leach.]

“When a child turns 12, he should be kept in a barrel and fed through the bunghole, until he reaches 16…at which time you plug the bunghole.” – Mark Twain

“It broke her heart, and sent her to bed with a grievous headache, which I look upon as a triumphant success.” – Nathanial Hawthorne’s reaction to his wife’ distress after he read the conclusion of his book The Scarlet Letter to her

“I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.” – Woody Allen


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Talking About Books . . .

Lapsing into a Comma

Washington Post copy editor Bill Walsh died recently.  Linda Holmes writes fondly about him in an NPR article that also includes an excerpt from one of his books.

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What’s your “x” rating?  Mine varies from 1.0 to 1.5, but I hope it will reach 2.0 as time goes by.  But it will never reach the 3.0 that some people attain.  The “x” rating in this case is the speed at which you listen to an audio book.  If you read it at the recorded speed the “x” rating is 1.0.  If you read it at 1.25 times the recorded speed, then your “x” rating is 1.25.  The most amazing thing about accelerated listening speeds is that the narrator’s voice does not change its pitch.  It doesn’t sound like The Chipmunks.  You simply hear the narrator speaking faster.  An Audible Range article explains “speed listening” much better than I can.

I recently finished listening to T. H. White’s The Once and Future King which is a 639 page paperback book with small print.  I’m a slow reader, so it would have taken a long, long time for me to  read it.  Even in it audio book format it takes 33 hours to complete.  By listening to it at 1.25 times the normal speed I was able to cut the listening time to just over 26 hours without sacrificing my understanding of White’s masterpiece.  Strangely, listening at an accelerated speed added inflection to the narrator’s voice thereby making the narration more interesting.  That added inflection can turn many a plodding narrator into a peppy, interesting one.  The phenomenon is also discussed in the above mentioned article.

Another fascinating thing that occurs with speed listening is that your brain learns to accommodate higher and higher listening speeds as time goes by.  I could occasionally listen to White’s book at 1.5 times the normal rate.  The speed at which you can listen, however, varies with the complexity of the book.

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Largely because of Thomas Keneally’s book Schindler’s List, we are aware of Oskar Schindler’s heroic efforts  to save concentration camp Jews from death during World War II.  One of the existing lists of Jews working in Schindler’s factories will be auctioned soon.  The Guardian has the details plus a link to the auction site in case you want to put in a bid.  But beware, the list is expected to sell for over $2 million.

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Learn Better

We adults don’t learn as rapidly as we did when we were children.  So, is there a way to optimize the rate at which we learn?  In an Atlantic magazine interview author and  educator Ulrich Boser provides some learning strategies.

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Did you know that Danielle Steele has made a statement about the weather in the opening sentence of 46% of her novels? A Smithsonian article gives some interesting statistics about word usage and many other aspects of the novels of many well-known authors.  I’m not sure that the statistics form easily understood patterns, but they should be interesting to readers and would-be authors alike.

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Scientific Romance

Are you a science fiction fan?  Michael Dirda, book reviewer extraordinaire for The Washington Post, is, and in a recent article he reviewed two anthologies that feature early science fiction.

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“Watch your ps and qs,” is an old adage that probably began with typesetting.  When you look at a p or q while setting type, it is easy to confuse them because they are backward.  To that advice, one might now add, “Watch your Oxford commas.”  The Guardian relates a legal case where the lack of an Oxford comma made a difference in a court decision.

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The PBS Newshour occasionally features a segment called “The PBS Newshour Bookshelf”  In it, authors are interviewed about their books.  The subjects cover a wide range of topics, so you’re sure to find interviews that will interest you.

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Book TV Programs You’ll Enjoy

I love to watch Book TV.  The variety of interviews and discussions – all about nonfiction books – can’t be matched anywhere.  And you can access the most recent offerings as well as a vast library of past programs from anywhere.  Below are a few segments that you might enjoy, but be sure to check out the Book TV website for more.

Mrs. Sherlock Holmes

Grace Humiston was unique.  She was one of the early women in the United States to get a law degree (she finished her degree work at N.Y.U. in two years rather than three, and was seventh in her graduating class), she was a practicing lawyer, and, acting as a detective, she was able to crack crime cases that the men around either couldn’t or wouldn’t solve.  “Mrs. Sherlock Holmes,” as she was called, made headlines all over the world for her successes, but she also made lots of powerful enemies.  Brad Ricca, author of Mrs. Sherlock Holmes, has a fascinating story to tell about a remarkable woman whose story, but for his own diligent detective work, might have been lost to history.

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Becoming Grandma

Lesley Stahl, who has been a TV reporter for many years, became a grandmother a few years ago.  Her book  about the joys of grandparenthood, Becoming Grandma, is filled with delightful stories that any grandparent – make or female – can relate to.  In an interview from the Newseum in Washington, DC she shares some of them with us.  One of the funniest of all is the story behind the photograph on the cover of her book.

By the way, if you ever go to Washington don’t miss the Newseum.  Unlike the Smithsonian museums you have to pay to see the Newseum, but it’s worth the money.

Another must-see in Washington is the Folger Shakespeare Library.  It has possibly the largest collection of Shakespeare folios and related items in the world.  It’s also a research library for Shakespeare scholars.

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The Gene

Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of the fantastic book The Emperor of All Maladies has received wide praise for his follow-up book The Gene: An Intimate History.  He is extremely good at making complex medical ideas accessible to us common folks.

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Chasing the Last Laugh

“There are two times in a man’s life when he should not speculate,” wrote Mark Twain, “When he can’t afford it and when he can,”  Unfortunately, he didn’t take his own advice.  The result was a huge financial crisis – one that would have finished off many lesser men.  On top of that many of the people he loved most died too young, resulting in depression and bitterness.  Instead of giving up, he went on an around-the-world-speaking tour.  Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain’s Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour by Richard Zacks gives us lots of tidbits to enjoy about the unique Mr. Twain.

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Quotes of Note

Throughout Guns, Germs, and Steel author Jared Diamond makes the point over and over that we shouldn’t judge “primitive” people as being unintelligent simply because they don’t possess the same knowledge database that we have.  In the example below Diamond gives us an example of how knowledgeable the Foré tribesmen of New Guinea are about the practical things they must be aware of in order to stay alive, and how stupid they think some American “experts” are. 

“For the last 33 years, while conducting biological explorations in New Guinea, I have been spending my field time there constantly in the company of New Guineans who still use wild plants and animals extensively.  One day when my companions of the Foré tribe and I were starving in the jungle because another tribe was blocking our return to our supply base, a Foré man returned to camp with a large rucksack full of mushrooms he had found, and started to roast them.  Dinner at last! But then I had an unsettling thought: What if the mushrooms were poisonous?

“I patiently explained to my Foré companions that I had read about some mushrooms being poisonous, that I had heard of even expert American mushroom collectors dying because of the difficulty of distinguishing safe from dangerous mushrooms, and that although we were all hungry, it just wasn’t worth the risk.  At that point my companions got angry and told me to shut up and listen while they explained some things to me.  After I had been quizzing them for years about names of hundreds of trees and birds, how could I insult them by assuming they didn’t have names for different mushrooms?  Only Americans could be so stupid as to confuse poisonous mushrooms with safe ones.  They went on to lecture me about 29 types of edible mushroom species, each species’ name in the Foré language, and where in the forest one should look for it.  This one, the tánti, grew on trees and it was delicious and perfectly edible.”

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“Litigations between husbands and wives exceed in bitterness and hatred those of any other relationships.  I have represented defrauded businessmen who fight their deceivers for fortune and power.  I have seen them pour out their venom against their opponents until they suffered heart attacks or were ulcerated.  I have witnessed struggles for the protection of copyrighted property, where the pride of authorship, being dearer than life itself, consumed the creative artist.  I have seen public figures libeled or accused of wrongs which could wreck their life’s work, strike back at their detractors.  I have observed men with spotless reputations who were indicted, suffer nervous breakdowns.  I have witnessed children sue their fathers to deprive them of their businesses, or brothers engaged in fratricidal contests without quarter.  I have seen defendants in antitrust suits beleaguered by plaintiffs seeking treble damages or defending themselves against Government actions aimed to break up their enterprise, painstakingly build over a lifetime.  I have participated in will contests in which relatives were at each others’ throats for the inheritance.

“All these litigations evoke intense feelings of animosity, revenge, and retribution.  Some of them may be fought ruthlessly.  But none of them even in their most aggravated form, can equal the sheer, unadulterated venom of a matrimonial contest.  The participants are often ready to gouge out the eyes or the soul of the once loved, without any pity whatsoever.” – Louis Nizer, My Life in Court

“Hot lead can be almost as effective coming from a linotype as from a firearm.” – John O’Hara

“It’s not that I don’t like things, I mean some things are very nice, but they certainly take a distant second place to being able to live your life and being able to do what you want to do. I always knew that I didn’t want to work.” – Cormack McCarthy

“We do not need magic to change the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better.” – J.K. Rowling

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Anthropologist Margaret Mead

“Be a first-rate version of yourself instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” – Judy Garland

“There are five stages in the life of an actor: Who’s Mary Astor? Get me Mary Astor. Get me a Mary Astor type. Get me a young Mary Astor. Who’s Mary Astor?” – Actress Mary Astor


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Happy Mardi Gras!

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An unpublished novel by Walt Whitman was recently found in the archives of a Victorian era New York Sunday newspaper. It was discovered by Zachary Turpin, a PhD candidate in English at the University of Houston.  You will find the novel in a .pdf file here.

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Do you remember the Little Golden Books from your childhood? I remember them  from both my childhood, and from those of my children and my granddaughter.  The wonderful series turns 75 this year and is still popular.  National Public Radio recently interviewed Leonard Marcus about his book Golden Legacy: The Story of Golden Books.

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The Boston Globe has an article that will appeal to every word nerd.  It’s about the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a new book about words by a Merriam-Webster lexicographer (see image above), a Mel Gibson-Sean Penn movie based on Simon Winchester’s book The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary and much more.

You may also enjoy the word games at the Merriam-Webster website.

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According to author Phillip Lopate, Ernest Hemingway was a “contradictory, alternately smart and stupid, blustering, fragile man who was also a giant of modern literature.”  As evidence he points to the letters of Hemingway which are in the process of being published in 17 or so volumes.  Volume three gives some valuable insight into the psyche of one of the twentieth century’s greatest novelists. You can read more about volume three here.

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The novels of Charlotte and Emily Brontë are staples of the Western Canon, but those of their sister, Anne, are hardly remembered at all – despite the fact that she may have been  the best writer of the three.  In Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life, biographer Samantha Ellis makes the case for Ann’s greatness. You can find out more about Ann Brontë and about Ellis’ book here.

Anne Brontë’s two novels are in the public domain (as are those of Charlotte and Emily) and can be obtained free from many sources on the internet

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BookBrowse routinely interviews authors about their works.  Here are 10 of their favorite interviews from 2016.  Note that if you click on the title of the book (to the right of “Read the Interview”), you will find some or all of the following extras: a summary, an excerpt, a reading guide, and a discussion.  You might even find an interesting book or two for your favorite book club.

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I will host Music on the Sunny Side on WBRH-FM here in Baton Rouge on Sunday, March 5th from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. CT.  The show will be a mix of Big Band music and some music that is a bit more contemporary.  Two of the highlights will be selections from George Gershwin’s 1934 American opera Porgy and Bess.  Only one of the songs will be sung by opera stars (bass-baritone Willard White and  soprano Leona Mitchell).  The others will be sung by Harry Belafonte, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, William Warfield, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Carmen McRae.  The other highlight will be selections from a salute to Tony Bennett on his 90th birthday.  Singers will include Michael Bublé, Kevin Spacey, Diana Krall, Rufus Wainwright, and k. d. lang.  The segment will end with Mr. Bennett singing “The Best Is Yet to Come.”  His voice is still incredible at 90.  You can join us locally at 90.3 FM or on the internet at

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The next edition of the live author interview program In-Depth on Book TV (C-SPAN2) will air Sunday, March 5, 2017 from noon to 3:00 p.m. ET.  The featured guest will be author and columnist Dave Barry.  His books include Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland and Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits.


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