Tag: Literature

10 Books from New York Times Best Books of the Year Lists

Selections mine, descriptions from NYTIMES. Book links go to Amazon, list links go to NYTIMES.

The 10 Best Books of 2021
How the Word is Passed
A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America
By Clint Smith
For this timely and thought-provoking book, Smith, a poet and journalist, toured sites key to the history of slavery and its present-day legacy, including Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello; Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary; and a Confederate cemetery. Interspersing interviews with the tourists, guides, activists and local historians he meets along the way with close readings of scholarship and poignant personal reflection, Smith holds up a mirror to America’s fraught relationship with its past, capturing a potent mixture of good intentions, earnest corrective, willful ignorance and blatant distortion.

Invisible Child
Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City
By Andrea Elliott
To expand on her acclaimed 2013 series for The Times about Dasani Coates, a homeless New York schoolgirl, and her family, Elliott spent years following her subjects in their daily lives, through shelters, schools, courtrooms and welfare offices. The book she has produced — intimately reported, elegantly written and suffused with the fierce love and savvy observations of Dasani and her mother — is a searing account of one family’s struggle with poverty, homelessness and addiction in a city and country that have failed to address these issues with efficacy or compassion.

Editors’ Choice: The Best Books of 1998
We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families
Stories From Rwanda.
By Philip Gourevitch.
In 1994 the Government of Rwanda called on everyone in the Hutu majority of the country to murder everyone in the Tutsi minority. In 100 days 800,000 people were killed, most of them individually cut down with knives. The daily killing rate exceeded that of the Nazi Holocaust, and the deed was done mostly not by trained cadres but by neighbors, co-workers, even family members. In the years since, Philip Gourevitch, a New Yorker writer, has talked to survivors, witnesses and participants to discover the origins and personal motives for this collective crime. His grim book — it is his first — lays a burden on the world’s conscience. This genocidal crime now has faces, names, personal psychologies. As we encounter people involved in the massacre, we cannot pull back from looking into their souls, and our own. As the title — taken from a letter by seven Christian pastors to their religious leader — indicates, there were warnings. Those given to international agencies, especially the United Nations, make dismal reading. And American policy, which encouraged the United Nations to stay out of internal conflicts, is sickening in retrospect. The history of Belgian, French and British racism in colonial times bears on the massacres too. Gourevitch withholds judgments, but his restraint gives his book a subtle, subterranean power.

Editors’ Choice: The Best Books of 1997
Into Thin Air 
A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster.
By Jon Krakauer.
Until May 1996, 630 people had climbed Mount Everest and 144 had died on it. That spring at least 30 expeditions of tourists made the climb. On May 10 a rogue storm blew up, and eight people in three separate expeditions approaching or leaving the summit died. Jon Krakauer, a 42-year-old writer, was with one team, assigned by Outside magazine to report on the commercialization of Everest. Although 12 people died altogether in 1996, he says, a record, 84 made it to the top, so it was a safer-than-average year. Krakauer explains the economic incentives for experienced climbers to lead groups of amateurs up the mountain, the even greater incentive for Nepal to license the trips and the total lack of incentive to limit the numbers risking their lives. When things go wrong in the death zone, the last 2,000 feet, and eventually they do, even the world’s best guides cannot save the tourists, or themselves. But his book does more than report on lethal tourism. He wrote it to ”purge Everest from my life.” It didn’t. It may put Everest ineradicably into your mind. This deftly constructed tale lets you sense the excruciating torture of climbing five miles high, the exhilarating and terrifying disorientation of oxygen starvation, the capricious moods of wind and snow, the strange seductiveness of death at odd moments. His re-creation of the storm that killed his companions swirls around the reader like the gale itself and gives this appalling struggle with death a horrifying intimacy.

Editors’ Choice 1992
By Pat Barker.
Pat Barker has been the model of a working-class realistic novelist, but here she leaps the lines of gender, class, geography and history at once. And she takes another daring chance: her novel is about real people who published their own memoirs. “Regeneration” is the story of the British poet Siegfried Sassoon, a World War I combat hero who in 1917 writes a highly publicized letter protesting the war and is sent by a baffled Government to a hospital where the distinguished neurologist and psychologist W. H. R. Rivers is pioneering treatments for shell shock. As an intense father-son relationship develops between the men, Ms. Barker’s themes — war and madness, war and manhood — make the madness of war more than metaphor. But, in the tradition of literary realism, she confronts reality without polemics, anger or artifice. Her story becomes a magnificent antiwar novel and a wonderful justification of her belief that plain writing, energized by the named things of the world, will change readers profoundly by bringing them deep into imagined lives.

Editors’ Choice 1988
Battle Cry of Freedom 
The Civil War Era.
By James M. McPherson.
James M. McPherson’s book – eloquent but unrhetorical, scholarly but not pedantic, succinct and comprehensive at the same time – may be the best volume ever published about the Civil War. Everything Mr. McPherson touches drives his narrative forward, and yet there is not a hint of ostentation from the first sentence to the last. He makes the war steal up on the reader the way it did on the nation, teaching the most important and dreadful truth of all – that no more than ordinarily sinful men and women, and able and patriotic politicians, and a nation enjoying unrivaled prosperity, can make irretrievable and deadly blunders. It is the timeliest possible lesson for us now, and we get it here from a great teacher.

The Magic Lantern
An Autobiography.
By Ingmar Bergman. Translated by Joan Tate.
It is not autobiography in the usual sense. For instance, there is much less about films than you might expect, even though Ingmar Bergman is the most thoroughly artistic film maker ever. And there is not much about his wives or other lovers, nor about his children. But there are gripping revelations, especially about his childhood, told in an unrelentingly honest manner. It is a random, anecdotal, unchronological book that gives you a picture of a highly emotional and not very adaptable soul. It holds you as many of his films do, and his story deals in totally unpredictable ways with a life filled with maladies and rages as well as with an intense love of theater. As in many of his films, by the end he has revealed things you may find it discomforting to know and a central character whom you may not like but who is stamped into your imagination.

Editors’ Choice 1986
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat 
And Other Clinical Tales.
By Oliver Sacks
With the lucidity and power of a gifted short-story writer, Oliver Sacks, an eminent neurologist, writes about two dozen patients who manifest striking peculiarities of perception, emotion, language, thought, memory or action. His decidedly original approach to neurological disorders – he writes like a philosopher-poet -is insightful, compassionate, moving and on occasion, especially when he plays naive about neurological literature, infuriating. His eminently humane approach, and his willingness to take seriously the ordinary locutions people use to talk about their conditions, are entirely to his credit. There is no one else who writes about what used to be called simply ”mental problems” with such understanding and such delightful literary and narrative skill.

Editors’ Choice 1985
Common Ground
A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families.
By J. Anthony Lukas.
Covering a great deal more than its subtitle suggests, this is a huge study of Boston in the 1970’s, when it was under the pressure of court-ordered busing to achieve school desegregation. The three families J. Anthony Lukas focuses on include only a handful of the hundreds of people in a multilayered account of the moral fabric of a city and the vastly different social universes of its neighborhoods. Eventually the turmoil surrounding the desegregation efforts is seen in the context of history, not just national history or that of Boston but the history of the little villages cities are made up of and in many cases even the histories of individuals.

Editors’ Choice 1984
The Unbearable Lightness Of Being
By Milan Kundera
With cunning, wit and elegiac sadness, Milan Kundera, the celebrated Czechoslovak emigre writer, expresses the trap the world has become in this relentless novel about four people who are born of images in Mr. Kundera’s mind – a doctor and his dedicated wife and a frivolous, seductive woman painter and her good, patient lover. The stories of this quartet, all of whom die or fade from the book, are engrossing enough. But this writer’s real business is to find images for the disastrous history of his country in his lifetime. He uses the four pitilessly, setting each pair against the other as opposites in every way, to describe a world in which choice is exhausted and people simply cannot find a way to express their humanity.

Ingmar Bergman – Woody Allen on

”The Seventh Seal” was always my favorite film, and I remember seeing it with a small audience at the old New Yorker Theater. Who would have thought that that subject matter could yield such a pleasurable experience? If I described the story and tried to persuade a friend to watch it with me, how far would I get? ”Well,” I’d say, ”it takes place in plague-ridden medieval Sweden and explores the limits of faith and reason based on Danish – and some German – philosophical concepts.” Now this is hardly anyone’s idea of a good time, and yet it’s all dealt off with such stupendous imagination, suspense and flair that one sits riveted like a child at a harrowing fairy tale. Suddenly the black figure of Death appears on the seashore to claim his victim, and the Knight of Reason challenges him to a chess game, trying to stall for time and discover some meaning to life. The tale engages and stalks forward with sinister inevitability. Again, the images are breathtaking! The flagellants, the burning of the witch (worthy of Carl Dreyer) and the finale, as Death dances off with all the doomed people to the nether lands in one of the most memorable shots in all movies.

A digression here about style. The predominant arena for conflict in motion pictures has usually been the external, physical world. Certainly that was true for many years. Witness the staples of slapstick and westerns, war films and chases and gangster movies and musicals. As the Freudian revolution sank in, however, the most fascinating arena of conflict shifted to the interior, and films were faced with a problem. The psyche is not visible. If the most interesting fights are being waged in the heart and mind, what to do? Bergman evolved a style to deal with the human interior, and he alone among directors has explored the soul’s battlefield to the fullest. With impunity he put his camera on faces for unconscionable periods of time while actors and actresses wrestled with their anguish. One saw great performers in extreme close-ups that lingered beyond where the textbooks say is good movie form. Faces were everything for him. Close-ups. More close-ups. Extreme close-ups. He created dreams and fantasies and so deftly mingled them with reality that gradually a sense of the human interior emerged. He used huge silences with tremendous effectiveness. The terrain of Bergman films is different from his contemporaries’. It matches the bleak beaches of the rocky island he lives on. He has found a way to show the soul’s landscape. (He said he viewed the soul as a membrane, a red membrane, and showed it as such in ”Cries and Whispers.”) By rejecting cinema’s standard demand for conventional action, he has allowed wars to rage inside characters that are as acutely visual as the movement of armies. See ”Persona.”

Through a Life Darkly
Woody Allen reviewing The Magic Lantern by Ingmar Bergman

5 Short Novels

Indian Nocturne – 88 Pages
Antonio Tabucchi
Translated from the Italian, this winner of the Prix Medicis Etranger for 1987 is an enigmatic novel set in modern India. Roux, the narrator, is in pursuit of a mysterious friend named Xavier. His search, which develops into a quest, takes him from town to town across the subcontinent.

Wittgenstein’s Nephew – 114 pages
Thomas Bernhard
It is 1967. In separate wings of a Viennese hospital, two men lie bedridden. The narrator, named Thomas Bernhard, is stricken with a lung ailment; his friend Paul, nephew of the celebrated philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, is suffering from one of his periodic bouts of madness. As their once-casual friendship quickens, these two eccentric men begin to discover in each other a possible antidote to their feelings of hopelessness and mortality—a spiritual symmetry forged by their shared passion for music, strange sense of humor, disgust for bourgeois Vienna, and great fear in the face of death. Part memoir, part fiction, Wittgenstein’s Nephew is both a meditation on the artist’s struggle to maintain a solid foothold in a world gone incomprehensibly askew, and a stunning—if not haunting—eulogy to a real-life friendship.

The Penitent – 114 Pages
Isaac Bashevis Singer
In 1969 I.B. Singer goes to the Wailing Wall for the first time and meets a man wearing ritual garments named Joseph Shapiro. Shapiro survived WWII in Poland and Russia, moved to the US and became a successful business man in New York. Over the next couple of days he tells Singer how he came to renounce his old life, move to Israel, and become an observant Jew.

Prater Violet – 146 Pages
Christopher Isherwood
Prater Violet concerns the filming of an unashamedly romantic and commercial musical about old Vienna. It is a stinging satirical novel about the film industry, trifling studio feuds, and the fatuous movie Prater Violet, which, ironically, counterpoints the tragic events on the world stage as Hitler’s lengthening shadow falls over the real Vienna of the thirties. At its center are vivid portraits of the mocking genius Friedrich Bergmann, the imperious, dazzlingly witty Austrian director, and his disciple, a genial young screenwriter-the fictionalized Christopher Isherwood.

The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith – 221 Pages
Thomas Keneally
In Australia at the turn of the twentieth century, Jimmie Blacksmith is desperate to figure out where he belongs. Half-Anglo and half-Aboriginal, he feels out of place in both cultures. Schooled in the ways of white society by a Protestant missionary, Jimmie forsakes tribal customs, adopts the white man’s religion, marries a white woman, and seeks a life of honest labor in a world Aborigines are normally barred from entering. But he will always be seen as less than human by the employers who cheat and exploit him, the fellow workers who deride him, and the wife who betrays him—and a man can only take so much. Driven by hopelessness, rage, and despair, Jimmie commits a series of savage and terrible acts of vengeance and becomes something he never thought he’d be: a murderer, a fugitive, and, ultimately, a legend.

NOTE – Selections mine, description via amazon.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses – Ernest Dowson Poem

Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam
They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Ernest Dowson

In 1899 Robert Sherard found Dowson almost penniless in a wine bar. Sherard took him to his cottage in Catford, where Dowson spent his last six weeks.

On 23 February 1900 Dowson died in Catford at the age of 32. He was interred in the Roman Catholic section of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries in London.

Dowson is best remembered for three phrases from his poems:
“Days of wine and roses”, from the poem “Vitae Summa Brevis”
“Gone with the wind”, from the poem ”Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae”
“I have been faithful … in my fashion”, from “Cynarae”

10 Books Recommended by Flea

The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
Of Human Bondage – W. Somerset Maugham
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
The Slave – Isaac Bashevis Singer
Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape – Susan Brownmiller
Jazz – Toni Morrison
Coming Through Slaughter – Michael Ondaatje
True History of the Kelly Gang – Peter Carey

There’s just too damn books so I gotta stop but those ones really had an impact.

Acid for the Children

Queequeg Makes His Funeral Plans

Not a man of the crew but gave him up; and, as for Queequeg himself, what he thought of his case was forcibly shown by a curious favor he asked. He called one to him in the grey morning watch, when the day was just breaking, and taking his hand, said that while in Nantucket he had chanced to see certain little canoes of dark wood, like the rich war-wood of his native isle; and upon inquiry, he had learned that all whalemen who died in Nantucket, were laid in those same dark canoes, and that the fancy of being so laid had much pleased him; for it was not unlike the custom of his own race, who, after embalming a dead warrior, stretched him out in his canoe, and so left him to be floated away to the starry archipelagoes; for not only do they believe that the stars are isles, but that far beyond all visible horizons, their own mild, uncontinented seas, interflow with the blue heavens; and so form the white breakers of the milky way. He added, that he shuddered at the thought of being buried in his hammock, according to the usual sea-custom, tossed like something vile to the death-devouring sharks. No: he desired a canoe like those of Nantucket, all the more congenial to him, being a whaleman, that like a whale-boat these coffin-canoes were without a keel; though that involved but uncertain steering, and much lee-way adown the dim ages.

Herman Melville

Pears and Tanks – Kundera quote

To tell the truth, that was not an entirely new trait of hers. The difference was that at one time it had annoyed them. One night, for instance, their country was invaded by the tanks of a gigantic neighboring country. That had been such a shock and brought such terror that for a long time no one could think of anything else. It was August, and the pears in their garden were ripe. A week earlier, Mama had invited the pharmacist to come and pick them. But the pharmacist neither came nor even apologized. Mama was unable to forgive him, which infuriated Karel and Marketa. They reproached her: Everyone else is thinking about tanks, and you’re thinking about pears. Then they moved out, taking the memory of her pettiness with them.

But are tanks really more important than pears? As time went by, Karel realized that the answer to this question was not as obvious as he had always thought, and he began to feel a secret sympathy for Mama’s perspective, which had a big pear tree in the foreground and somewhere in the distance a tank no bigger than a ladybug, ready at any moment to fly away out of sight. Ah yes! In reality it’s Mama who is right: tanks are perishable, pears are eternal.

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
Milan Kundera

Ahab, Ishmael, Elijah – Moby Dick Character’s Biblical References – Chat GPT

What are the biblical references to Ahab, Ishmael and Elijah in the book Moby Dick

In the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville, there are indeed biblical references to characters such as Ahab, Ishmael, and Elijah. Here’s a breakdown of these references:

Ahab: The character Captain Ahab in Moby Dick is heavily influenced by the biblical figure of King Ahab. In the Bible, Ahab was a king of Israel who is portrayed as wicked and idolatrous. Similarly, Captain Ahab in Moby Dick is depicted as a complex and obsessive character who becomes consumed by his pursuit of revenge against the white whale, Moby Dick. The biblical reference highlights the themes of hubris and the consequences of prideful actions.

Ishmael: The narrator and protagonist of Moby Dick is named Ishmael, which is also a biblical name. In the Bible, Ishmael is the son of Abraham and Hagar. He is considered the ancestor of many Arab tribes. In the novel, Ishmael serves as a symbolic everyman character, representing humanity as a whole and providing the perspective through which the story unfolds.

Elijah: In Moby Dick, Elijah appears as a minor character, serving as a prophetic figure. The character of Elijah draws parallels to the biblical prophet Elijah, known for his fiery zeal and confrontations with kings and false prophets. In the novel, Elijah acts as a harbinger of doom, repeatedly warning Ishmael of the dangers and omens associated with Captain Ahab and the voyage of the Pequod.

These biblical references add depth and thematic resonance to the characters and events in Moby Dick, emphasizing themes of obsession, destiny, and the consequences of human actions.

RIP Martin Amis

Martin Amis, British author of era-defining novels, dies at 73

Influential British author Martin Amis has died at his home in Lake Worth, Fla., of esophageal cancer. He was 73.

His agent, Andrew Wiley, and his publisher, Vintage Books, confirmed his death on Saturday.

This is from Ron Rosenbaum, in his book The Secret Parts of Fortune:

As more and more bodies crammed themselves into the sweaty mosh pit of the Benetton basement, and the wait for the now overdue author went on, I began revolving around in my mind a theory about Mr. Amis’s work, why exactly I find his vision so powerful. Why it represents to me something more than addictively entertaining, acidly sophisticated dark comedy. The way it seems to me to embody as well a perversely spiritual vision, a brilliant heretical counterstatement to the Grand, Overinflated secular religion of our culture: the Religion of Self-Esteem. What Mr. Amis does is counterpose to the doctrine of self-esteem as the be-all and cure-all of the human condition what might be called the Virtue of Self-Loathing, the spiritual Discipline of Self-Disgust.

Here are a couple of his books that I am a fan of:

Money is the hilarious story of John Self, one of London’s top commercial directors, who is given the opportunity to make his first feature film—alternately titled Good Money and Bad Money. He is also living money, talking money, and spending money in his relentless pursuit of pleasure and success. As he attempts to navigate his hedonistic world of drinking, sex, drugs, and excessive quantities of fast food, Self is sucked into a wretched spiral of degeneracy that is increasingly difficult to surface from.


The son of the great comic novelist Kingsley Amis, Martin Amis explores his relationship with this father and writes about the various crises of Kingsley’s life. He also examines the life and legacy of his cousin, Lucy Partington, who was abducted and murdered by one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers. Experience also deconstructs the changing literary scene, including Amis’ portraits of Saul Bellow, Salman Rushdie, Allan Bloom, Philip Larkin, and Robert Graves, among others. Not since Nabokov’s Speak, Memory has such an implausible life been recorded by such an inimitable talent. Profound, witty, and ruthlessly honest, Experience is a literary event.

Jimmy Crack Corn, Blue-Tail Fly – Subtext of

One of the first songs I can remember learning well enough to sing was “Jimmy Cracked Corn” or “The Blue-Tail Fly” (its real name); not for 20 years or so did I realize it wasn’t a nonsense song, a kids’ song, but an expression of glee at a slaveowner’s death. What makes the song chilling is that Massa isn’t made out to be wicked; he isn’t characterized at all, except as Massa—reason enough to crack corn in celebration of his demise. A blue-tail fly got him, as the singer details in a series of verses, each followed by the chorus of merriment (“Jimmy crack corn and I don’t care/ My Massa’s gone away”). We don’t know for sure where he’s gone until thc end, when his epitaph is sung. The song was popular in minstrel shows of the 1840s and was handed down for 150 years, transformed into a campfire song for White middle-class kids. Perhaps “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” will be rediscovered In the next century as a cautionary ballad about the need to put on your galoshes.

Faces In The Crowd: Musicians, Writers, Actors, And Filmmakers
Gary Giddins

See also wikiepdia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Crack_Corn

ChatGpt – If I like these books what else would I like

If I like these books what else would I like:
The Exorcist
Rule of the Bone
The Beginning of Spring
Watership Down
The Penitent

Based on the books you listed, here are some recommendations for similar books:
  1. “The Shining” by Stephen King – Like “The Exorcist,” this is a classic horror novel that explores the darker aspects of human nature.
  2. “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger – Like “Rule of the Bone,” this is a coming-of-age novel about a young protagonist who is trying to find his place in the world.
  3. “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov – Like “The Beginning of Spring,” this is a literary novel set in early 20th-century Russia that explores the themes of love, art, and revolution.
  4. “Animal Farm” by George Orwell – Like “Watership Down,” this is an allegorical novel that uses animals to explore human society and politics.
  5. “The Power and the Glory” by Graham Greene – Like “The Penitent,” this is a novel that explores themes of sin, redemption, and faith, set against the backdrop of political turmoil.

New Black Canon – Books, Plays and Poems That Everyone Should Know – The New York Times

Pauline E. Hopkins, “Of One Blood” (1902-3)
Chester Himes, “Lonely Crusade” (1947)
Fran Ross, “Oreo” (1974)
Alison Mills Newman, “Francisco” (1974)
James Alan McPherson, “Elbow Room” (1977)
William Demby, “Love Story Black” (1978)
J. California Cooper, “The Wake of the Wind” (1998)

Jean Toomer, “Balo” (1922)
Eulalie Spence, “The Starter” (1923)
Lorraine Hansberry, “Toussaint” (1961)
Charles Gordone, “No Place to Be Somebody: A Black-Black Comedy” (1969)
Adrienne Kennedy, “An Evening with Dead Essex” (1973)
Andrea Hairston, “Lonely Stardust” (1998)

Esther Popel, “Flag Salute” (1934)
Bob Kaufman, “The Collected Poems” (1965-78)
Gwendolyn Brooks, “In the Mecca” (1968)
Ishmael Reed, “A Secretary to the Spirits” (1978)
Dolores Kendrick, “The Women of Plums: Poems in the Voices of Slave Women” (1989)
Melvin Dixon, “Love’s Instruments” (1995)
Ai, “Vice: New and Selected Poems” (1999)

The New Black Canon: Books, Plays and Poems That Everyone Should Know
A guide to some of the undervalued 20th-century works that testify to the richness of the Black American literary archive.


In the Desert – Stephen Crane

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”


“In the Desert”[1] is the name given to a poem written by Stephen Crane (1871–1900), published in 1895 as a part of his collection, The Black Riders and Other Lines. “In the Desert” is the third of fifty-six short poems published in this volume. The poem is short, only ten lines, and briefly describes an interaction between the speaker and “creature, naked, bestial” encountered “in the desert”, eating his heart.