Wednesday, October 15, 2014

October 2014 Books

Edge of Eternity (Century Trilogy # 3) by Ken Follett
Published: 2014
Rating: 4
Author web site

Two years ago, I read the first two books in Follett's Century Trilogy (see post) which began a love for historical fiction and initiated a reading spree of World War II that continues to this day; also spawning interest in the subsequent Korean and Vietnam Wars.

I pre-ordered the book and began reading upon receipt.  Follett begins the narrative in 1961 and continues to follow the same families (American, British, German and Russian) introduced in the first two books.

In this lengthy book (1,098 pages), I was disappointed that the Korean War was completely skipped, but that is just par for the course - another example of how it is truly the "Forgotten War."  That said, Follett did not focus on the Vietnam War either, rather turning his attention to the Civil Rights movement in American and the Cold War with Russia, specifically the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Very gripping reading - I did not realize how close we were to a nuclear war which could've wiped us out.

The book ends with the events that led to the demise of communism in Eastern Europe, culminating in the dramatic fall of the Berlin Wall.

I found this particular quote of a semi-retired CIA officer as he watched the fall of the Berlin Wall on television - very telling of our foreign policy decisions:
Everything we did was completely ineffective. Despite all our efforts Vietnam, Cuba, and Nicaragua became Communist countries. Look at other places where we tried to prevent Communism: Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Cambodia, Laos….None of them does us much credit. And now Eastern Europe is abandoning Communism with no help from us.
To say the twentieth century was tumultuous is an understatement,  Follett has done a great job bringing it to life and making this reader, formally uninterested in history, a convert.

Poetry as Survival by Gregory Orr
Published: 2002
Rating: 5+

I loved it - evidenced by the numerous dog-eared pages and marks (underline, circles, exclamation marks, asterisks and comments) within the margins.

How he found poetry and what it has meant in his life reminds me of Anne Sexton - both say that poetry had literally saved them.

When he was twelve, Orr was responsible for a hunting accident that killed his younger brother. While his parents did not blame him, they were unable to talk about it due to their profound grief. He was left unconsolable.  Then two years later, his mother died after a common medical procedure. Trauma upon trauma inflicted on this young adolescent's soul.

Lucky for him, a high school English teacher exposed him to poetry and he has not looked back.
I wrote a poem one day, and it changed my life. I had a sudden sense that the language in poetry was "magical," unlike language in fiction: that it could create or transform reality rather than simply describe it. That first poem I wrote was a simple, escapist fantasy, but it liberated the enormous energy of my despair and oppression as nothing before had ever done. I felt simultaneously revealed to myself and freed of my self by the images and actions of the poem.
When someone, in the throes of a powerful and disturbing experience, turns instinctively to the writing or reading of a poem, it is because they sense the personal lyric can be a powerful aid in helping them survive and make sense of their experience.
Orr is a professor of English at the University of Virginia.  Reading this book gave me a sense of being in a seminar class on how poetry, specifically the personal lyric, has saved him.  It reads like a memoir, peppered with the poems and lines of poetry that he knows and loves. I have transposed these poems into my own personal poetry journal:
There is much more to say about this life changing (strong words but true!) book which I hope to do on Josh's blog.  

Would highly recommend!!!

Other books by Orr:
  • The Blessing: A Memoir (2002)
  • The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems (2002)
  • Concerning the Book That is the Body of the Beloved (2005)
  • How Beautiful the Beloved (2009)
  • River Inside the River: Poems (2013)
The Poet's Corner: The One-and-Only Poetry Book for the Whole Family compiled by John Lithgow
Published: 2007
Rating: 4

This famous actor's love of poetry began at a young age - at the feet of his grandmother who could recite numerous poems from memory.

So this book is like a love offering - a poetry anthology of his all-time favorite poets who "lived on different continents, in different eras, their works are old and new, romantic and savage, comic and gloomy, orderly and chaotic, long and short."

Lithgow includes a short commentary on each of the fifty poets and what the chosen poem(s) means to him.  

He also includes quotes from the poets themselves - my favorites are below.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel….the moment you feel, you're nobody-but-yourself. To be nobody-but-yourself - in a world that is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else - means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.    E.E. Cummings 
If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that it is poetry.  Emily Dickinson 
A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.    Robert Frost 
Look, then, into thine heart, and write!        Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
To elevate the soul, poetry is necessary.      Edgar Allen Poe
Emily Dickinson is one poet whom I find both difficult to understand and amazing when I do.  I found and bought The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson edited by Thomas H. Johnson at my local library book sale a couple of years ago for the bargain price of $1.50. I have not delved into the book as yet but have rather run into Dickinson's poetry via other means - even finding an ambitious blogger who aims to read and write about all 1,789 poems. 

So when deciding which of the many poems in Lithgow's book I could transcribe here, how could I go wrong with Dickinson? 

There is no Frigate like a Book (#1263)
by Emily Dickinson

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry - 
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll - 
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human soul.

Audiobook: The Churchills: In Love and War by Mary S. Lovell
Published: 2011
Rating: 5

I borrowed this from the library - a fascinating, in-depth, frank and somewhat gossipy look at the extended family of one of the greatest statesman ever: Winston Spencer Churchill.

Lovell's premise is that family is very important to a person and so to gain better understanding of WSC, one must look at his family.  What kind of family was he born into? How did he interact with his parents, grandparents, friends, siblings, girlfriends, political allies and enemies, wife, children?

WSC was a product of his time and class: post-Victorian, British aristocracy.  He was the grandson of the 7th Duke of Marlborough and cousin to the 9th Duke of Marlborough. His mother was an American beauty, Jennie Jerome.  His cousin married an American heiress, Consuelo Vanderbilt whose first love was Winthrop Rutherford who eventually married Lucy Mercer, FDR's mistress.  Small world!

While primarily known as prime minister during the Second World War, I came to learn of his many other skills: novice pilot,  prolific writer, historian, painter, bricklayer, consummate politician and Nobel Prize winner (for Literature).  Also, I did not know he had served as prime minister twice.

Any subsequent reading of this man's life will be enriched by the insights gained from this well researched book.  

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