Two Short Reviews of Two Long Books

In the age of instant gratification and e-books, it seems as though today’s readers feel the two most important words in any book are, “The End.”  

Long books never bothered me.

I’ve been a fan of James Michener since the mid-seventies, and books with 500 plus pages don’t scare me off, although I’ve read neither War and Peace nor Gone With the Wind.

Some readers like excruciating detail.

Many readers require facts ad nauseam to be convinced.

And some of us, who may already be leaning in the direction of the author, need bare bones evidence to resolve the doubt.

Here then is my take on two best sellers.

Borders

¡Adios, America! by Ann Coulter

51b5v2tjzyl-_ac_us218_This book reputedly helped shape President Trump’s policies on immigration. Readers whose views are contrary to Coulter’s right-wing conservative point of view will discount the source and mostly choir members will hear her sermon. [My thoughts on consideration of sources will be the topic of a future blog.]

Hers is a simple message:

  1. Secure the border
  2. Decide what to do with illegals already here.

She advocates logical, clear cut solutions to these issues (including why she opposes amnesty.) Her fellow travelers will need little convincing. For everyone else, there’s almost four hundred thoroughly documented pages.

Dereliction of Duty by H.R. McMaster

51sri6l5rrl-_ac_us218_The current United States National Security Advisor wrote this scathing indictment of a previous president in 1997. He presents undisputed evidence (much of which only became available in the mid-nineties) to show how President Johnson, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff got us into the Southeast Asian quagmire commonly referred to as, “Viet Nam.”lbj-jfk-death-stare

McMaster’s opus (hailed with numerous accolades from his peers and historians) reiterates two points clearly:

  1. A sitting president will do anything, ANYTHING, to get re-elected.
  2. The first casualty of any war: the truth.

If you’re in the aforementioned category who likes details, you’ll be delighted to find McMaster gives lengthy examinations of the personal relationships and interactions of the characters involved.

I recommend both books.

Smokin’ at the Penthouse

Wes Montgomery / Wynton Kelly Trio

=====================

Montgomery died in 1968.WesM

Wynton Kelly died in 1971.

The Penthouse (in Seattle’s Pioneer Square) was demolished in 1968.

A parking lot took its place.

Talk about paving paradise.

John Coltrane’s performance in September of ‘65 was a watershed for the club which is also remembered for shows by the likes of Bill Evans, Miles Davis, and Stan Getz.

Which brings us to John Leslie “Wes” Montgomery, an icon in jazz guitar who followed in the footsteps of Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian.

Montgomery with his unique technique of using the side of his thumb to pluck the strings became an influence on many succeeding guitarists. In fact, his influence could be said to have spawned the genres of fusion and smooth jazz.

PenthouseMontgomery had two noteworthy performances at the Penthouse in April of 1966 along with the Wynton Kelly Trio.

Fortunately for jazz aficionados, and music lovers everywhere, these performances were recorded on tape.

Smokin’ at the Penthouse was released in May of 2017 and is available on both CD and in digital format.

Modern day jazz guitar icon Pat Metheny writes, “The news that another example of that band in action had surfaced was headline news for those of us in the hard-core Wes community. The incredible revelations contained in Resonance’s previous releases of Wes’s early work have been thrilling. This release adds yet another dimension to the almost impossibly brief ten years that Wes was the jazz world’s most renowned guitarist, particularly to completists like me who want to hang on to and cherish every note Wes played.”

This 10-track album is indeed a “smokin’” musical exchange between Wynton and Wes,SmokinAtthePenthouse swinging with fire-cracker energy. The Wynton Kelly trio opened each set of the 9-night engagement with a couple of tunes before Wes joined them on stage. The album opens with “There Is No Greater Love,” an upbeat rendition of Isham Jones’s well known jazz standard. Wynton glides through seven choruses filled with his trademark lyrical legato lines, with bluesy twists and turns along the way. His joyous playing is apparent from the start. In an interview with Kenny Baron included in the liner notes, he says, “Wynton was kind of in a class by himself. His touch, his feeling, his sense of time, sense of rhythm… For me it was just very, very unique.” Often underappreciated as a player, despite his years with Miles Davis, Wynton remains an iconic figure, for jazz fans and next generation of jazz players.

Get your copy today.

Milk, sugar, and serendipity

Every spring I visit friends in Louisville, Kentucky.

Last year it was for Passover.

This year, Easter.

About an hour out, somewhere between Lexington and Louisville, I called to give Art my estimated time of arrival.

“You’re making good time,” he said. “If you can get here by 7:15, we’ll take you for a special treaLaurie and met on the way to our folk dancing group.”

“Ok,” I said, “what’s up?”

“The woman whose great grandfather invented the seersucker suit is attending a special showing of their clothes at Rodes. It’s right next to where we dance.” En route to the event, I read a newspaper clipping and learned that the woman I was about to meet was the CEO of a New Orleans based company, Haspel.

I’m a Louisiana native and lived most of my adult life just a stone’s throw from the LSU campus. A loyal Tiger fan, I had planned to wear LSU team apparel all through my stay in Louisville, especially in light of our big bowl win over the Cardinals and their Heisman Trophy recipient.

I wore a purple, gold, and white plaid button-down to the event.

As we walked into the menswear section of Rodes, Art approached  one of their representatives and announced the arrival of a Cajun seersucker fan. While we were treated to cocktails, they brought Laurie Haspel Aronson over so I could meet her. She commented on my LSU attire and said she lives in Baton Rouge. We know several people in common. Finally, she said, “I know you from somewhere, I just can’t quite put my finger on it.”

“I was a pharmacist for Winn Dixie in Baton Rouge before moving to North Carolina.”

“That’s it!” she said with a bright smile. “You filled my prescriptions.”BookNSuit-1

A light bulb went off in my mind and we chatted more. She grabbed a seersucker blazer off the rack (with pink stripes) and we posed for several photos together. As a parting gift, she gave Art and me each a copy of a new book about her grandfather’s business and the famous material that is seersucker. Watch for my review of Milk and Sugar: the Complete Book of Seersucker by Bill Haltom in this space soon.
It was great to see Laurie again and I’m looking forward to adding to the seersucker in my wardrobe.

Management NewSpeak–Orwell was Right (or “How I learned to speak in tongues at work.”)

Some of my friends consider me to be an anachronism.

In  some ways, they’re correct.  

In many ways, I’m stuck in the sixties.

Some of my mannerisms and behavior from the past  have  carried over into the new century. In fact, that’s one of them—my constant references to the “turn of the century.” It drives my proofreader nuts. He thinks that most people our age (baby boomers) will think of the 1800’s when I say, “…before the turn of the century.”  A topic for another blog.Newspeak-1

I don’t like the new age management jargon…

that has become prevalent in the last ten years. I prefer the old way of talking.

It was clear.

It was direct.

It wasn’t concerned about being politically correct.

[Some of my author friends may encounter this in their dealings with corporate types.]

 

Herewith, then, with tongue firmly planted in cheek,

is my interpretation of some of the more commonly heard newspeak terms and perhaps some comments about them.

Newspeak

reach out= ask   (Isn’t one word better than two?)

Ex. I’m so glad you reached out to me.  Why? Are you

drowning? I just asked a question, I don’t want you to touch me. This evokes memories of  The Four Tops.

going forward= from now on…

With the proper emphasis, this can be either a threat or a reassuring calmative.

best practices= “This is how I want it done,” or, “My way or the

highway, pal!”

dialog(ed)= talk(ed) Keep it simple!

(As in, “We dialoged about that yesterday. Sounds snooty.)

push back= disagreement, balked, whining (makes me think of

circumcision)

stakeholder(s) = employees (They’ve all got something on the line, or, at stake—their jobs.)

champion = responsible party (The person to whom you delegated a task or project.)

team = a time worn reference to a group of employees who doubt “team members” will  receive proper credit when it comes time for their annual performance evals.

takeaway(s) = (I tend to think of turnovers in football and basketball.) Anyway, a takeaway is what you eat with the coffee at a business meeting if you don’t like bagels.

And finally, an example:

Newspeak — “Going forward, assign some champions from your team and if you get any push back on the new best practices, reach out to me and we’ll dialog about it.”

Chip speak — When you show’em tomorrow how it better get done, if you get any complaints, call me and I’ll go up there and kick some asses.

The Professor and the Madman-a book review

When was the last time you used a dictionary to look up a word?

Not online.

A hardbound or paperback book that you hold in your hands and in which you turn real paper pages.

Been a while?

It has for me.

Other than using Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, I keep three books on my desk:

  1. Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories by Wilfred Funk (yes, THE “Funk” of Funk and Wagnalls.)
  2. Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words by J.H. Byrne (a gift from a close friend)
  3. The Book of Hard Words – Read it, See it, Know it, Use it. by David Bramwell

What was the last murder mystery you read?

Would it live up to this description, “…the linguistic detective story of the decade?”  That’s how New York Times Magazine writer, William Safire described, The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester.

Did you ever wonder how, and by whom dictionaries were written?

The Oxford English Dictionary is perhaps the most famous of them all. For many, it is the gold standard. (It certainly is for lexicographers and members of the London Philological Society.) We would have never expected it to have been the product of mad dogs and Americans. Yes, an American madman played a significant role in creating the OED. These days, most Americans would define a madman as one who voted for the OTHER candidate.  Things were a bit different in 1871 London, and the States were still rebounding from their brush with being dis-united.oed

The story involves two protagonists eponymously referred to in the title. In a manner of speaking, there is also a third man–not Orson Welles’ Harry Lime.

Winchester treats readers to a sampling from the OED with a definition at the beginning of each chapter. The Preface is prefaced with the word, “mysterious,” and Chapter One begins with, “murder.”

And murder is where one of the two stories begins.

Dr. W. C. Minor was a battlefield surgeon (a Yankee)  in the War Between the States. As a result of his experiences in the war, he apparently suffered from what we know today as post traumatic stress disorder, a term likely not found in the first edition of the OED. In retrospect, researchers today speculate that his PTSD hastened, or perhaps even was responsible for a posthumous diagnosis of bipolar disorder. His untreated illness referred to in Victorian England as, “madness,” combined with a deep seated racism for the Irish. It eventually led to his choice of victims and the perpetuation of a crime that would result in his availability to volunteer an unlimited amount of his time to the research required to help write a literary masterpiece.

murray

James Murray at work on the OED

 

James Murray was a Scot who, by the time he was thirty, in 1867, had learned twenty-two languages in addition to English. Despite a stellar resume, he was turned down for a much coveted job in a British museum. Eventually, he was chosen by the committee at Oxford to lead the project that would take seventy years  and define over a half million words. The first edition consisted of twelve tombstone-sized volumes.

A rigorous dependence on gathering quotations to illustrate the use of the sense of every single word in the language sets the OED apart from most other dictionaries. The previously mentioned definition of the word, murder, consumes more than two pages in the paperback edition of The Professor and the Madman. It seemed a monumental if not impossible task requiring an unbelievable number of hours which were supplied by volunteers. Who better to volunteer than an incarcerated word savant who was also a prolific reader?

Murray soon became buried under thousands of handwritten notes from Dr. Minor (by far the most prolific contributor) and hundreds of other volunteers. As the timelines of Murray and Minor converge, readers see their denouement as the dictionary is created while developing an appreciation for the men and their relationship. Winchester leaves us with the conclusion of their lives (not a Hollywood ending) and an appreciation for how their collaboration was essential  to the success of the project.

Casual readers will enjoy the story; writers and other word aficionados will feel this book is essential to have in their personal libraries.

Hard Words

The Book of Hard Words – Read it, See it, Know it, Use it. by David Bramwell

It’s hard to remember now, years later, what I was doing.

A series of loud bumps on the front door signaled the arrival of a visitor.

On my way to the door, I noticed through a side window that it was my neighbor’s son.

Dad was waiting several steps back at the sidewalk by the street.

The kid continued to pound on the door and as it began to open, he shouted, “Open up! You gotta buy something!”

The Ernest Hemingway approach to sales.

Simple.41o078qvm8l-_sy344_bo1204203200_

No frills.

Minimalist.

I bought whatever it was he was selling.

A Hemingway detractor, William Faulkner, once complained that Papa “…has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

In a little over fifty-five years of reading, I’ve been motivated to look up many words in dictionaries while reading. One thing’s for sure, though, I never put down a “page-turner” and interrupted a captivating story to study vocabulary.

On the other hand, learning new words and making an effort to use them has always been of interest. A well-read person should have a deep vocabulary — shouldn’t they?

It stands to reason.

This seemingly worthwhile pursuit has on occasion caused me some grief. In conversation or informal writing, if the listener doesn’t know what you’re talking about, then you have to explain it. The requirement of stopping and explaining word usage takes a lot away from the original intent of the message. It also leaves the impression that you might be a bit “snooty.”

“Don’t come around here using no five dollar words on me!” was a warning I didn’t want to hear very often. It does, now, in retrospect, cause me to wonder, ‘How much is a hard word worth today?”  Hmmm…

Whatever they’re worth, David Bramwell has got 112 for you for just over ten dollars in his book, The Book of Hard Words – Read it, See it, Know it, Use it.

Bramwell makes it easy to learn about the words in his book. An entire page is dedicated to each word complete with illustrations, pronunciation guide, sample usages, etymology and genealogy. The layout includes three sections titled, “Hard,” “Harder,” and of course, “Hardest.” The author acknowledges that this is not intended to be a complete compendium because, for example, one reader may consider a given word as being hard and another would not, from previous experience.  In my own case, it was a pleasant surprise to scan down the list of words and find many with which I was familiar.  Some of them, I use every day.

Back in my direct sales days, when I lived in Louisiana, it was advisable to write marketing pieces and especially letters on an eighth grade reading level. That was thirty years ago. It would not surprise me at all to discover that writing for any demographic today would benefit with that same advice. An author friend of mine received the following comment in a review of one of his books: “Only 7 percent of the population is going to understand several of the words the author uses.” In my own case, I would be thrilled if seven percent of the population owned a copy of one of my books, but is that what an author wants to do in attempts to sell more books?  I don’t think Hemingway had that problem, but I’m certain that Faulkner did.

Authors who have a word that might be considered difficult by some can take inspiration from the late William Safire, New York Times wordsmith-in-residence. In several of his books, he would use the device of having a character use a “hard” word in conversation. During that conversation, he or she would discuss that word and how it had been used. Another viable option for today’s writers — write a blog about it.

That would be mellifluous!

PBS to rebroadcast “More Than One Vote”

Care about the Future? Don’t Miss “More than One Vote” on PBS

(A review written by Bob Etier)
A deeply thought-provoking examination of the state of education in America and its impact on  politics, More than One Vote debuts this week on public television stations (see local listings for day and time). In an era when voters—and citizens eligible

voting-booth

I remember voting booths like this one from the 60’s and 70’s.

to vote who can’t be bothered—question the value of their votes and resent their exclusion from the processes of government “by the people,” More than One Vote examines Americans’ attitudes about self-governing and their familiarity with how government works.
According to More than One Vote, “A better educated and informed electorate will demand a more  responsible government.” The program explores the work and ideals of individuals and institutions developing programs to teach how government works; classes in Civics, American History, and Free Enterprise for school-aged students; activities including essay and poster contests; and programs that encourage voters to be better informed.
In addition to fostering education, an advocacy program is being designed, aimed to develop non-biased congressional watch groups, monitor congressional attendance and voting records, establish educational oversight groups, and  conduct government efficiency studies. Skeptics, such as this reviewer, may wonder if such an expansive project is too ambitious to succeed, but will secretly cross their fingers and hope this initiative will have a positive impact on American politics and society.
Participating in More than One Vote, are journalists, educators, activists, and representatives of organizations dedicated to improving education, social issues, government, and politics. Also interviewed are notables such as Henry Kissinger, Benita Bogart, Danny Glover, Lise Egstrom, Julian F. Thibaut,and Rupert Murdoch.

__________________________________________

PresidentsClub-new covr 2-8-15 NOTE:
This review appeared first as an appendix in The Presidents Club, by FCEtier.

More Than One Vote and this related review are works of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, and organizations mentioned are the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, are used fictitiously without any intent to describe their actual conduct. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or events is entirely coincidental.

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