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Melody's Staff Picks
A Personal History of America's Radical Right (2013)
Monday, November 4, 2013
Claire Conner was raised in the John Birch Society. Her father, Stillwell Conner was a national spokesman for JBS, and her mother, Laurene, made it her lifelong obsession. Her parents first met Robert Welch in 1955 and three years later paid a considerable sum to be life members of the JBS.
Extremism on any side (be it political, religious, or ethnic) is not pretty. More than anything, this is the story of a young girl being raised by parents who put their ideology above everything else. But in addition to this, her story gives readers a "fly on the wall" perspective of the origins and beliefs of JBS.
Ms. Conner relates the events of history through the lens of ultra-conservatism. Some reactions are predictable, but others may take you by surprise. Integration, assassinations, elections, Vietnam and more are all included here.The opinions of Revilo Oliver, who became a well-known Holocaust denier, as well as the writings of Fred Koch (father of David and Charles) were frequently heard at the family breakfast table.
Claire was a Pro Life spokesperson, but her concern didn’t end there, it extended to life beyond birth. This became one of what would be many dividing points between Claire and her parents, who believed everyone was responsible for their own welfare. They stood for what Robert Welch called a “healthy kind of poverty….that was offset by the enormous blessings of freedom.”
This is Claire's story of her journey from unquestioning devotion to her parents, and their ideology, to being able to understand and accept other viewpoints. This book is not without bias, but it is well written and provides incredible insight into the origins of the right wing movement in this country. This is especially relevant given today’s headlines about the far right claiming responsibility for shutting down the government and the familiar names behind movements such as “Americans for Prosperity.”
Monday, September 9, 2013
The author of “Manson: The life and times of Charles Manson” brings us a life story, rather than the history of the Manson murders.
Charles Manson was born in 1934 to a teenaged mother. He often said that his mother was a prostitute, but here was no evidence of that. She did get pregnant at 15 and when the father didn’t want any part of the baby, she somehow talked William Manson into marrying her before Charlie was born. Kathleen Manson was a party girl who liked a good time and drinking and dancing, which her Nazarene mother strongly objected to.
When Charlie was 5, his mother and a couple of her friends cooked up a spur of the moment plan to rob a man who wanted to party with them. This led to a 5 year prison sentence. Charlie went to live with his Uncle Bill, Aunt Glenna and his cousin Joann. Joann said Charlie lied about everything. He had many setbacks, but others have managed to overcome even worse situations. Manson was a tiny child with an oversize sense of entitlement and a habit of blaming others for the things he’d done; he soon wore out his welcome with those who took him in.
At 12 he went to the first of 6 reform schools. He got out at 19, got married and became a father. They were soon divorced. By 21, he was in prison for car theft. He then re-married, had another child and divorced once again. While in prison, he attended a class in which he studied Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, which he claimed had a huge influence on him. He also picked up a key bit of information from the pimps in jails: “You had to know how to pick just the right girls, the ones with self-image or Daddy problems who’d buy into come-ons from a smooth talker…You wanted girls who were cracked but not broken.” In 1967, he walked out of prison at 32 and began trolling for such women in Haight-Ashbury. He became a “guru” who would take care of his “family” of young women.
Guinn chronicles the first girl, a library assistant at UC Berkley, who let Charlie live with her and who supported him, even when he started to bring other women into the “family”. One recruit was a 14 year old girl whose parents let her go with Manson. He immediately made her his main lover. Soon he moved them all down to LA, where he lived off the charity of others. Brian Wilson, of the Beach Boys, let Manson and his “family” crash at his house, where they ran up huge tabs on his credit cards.
Charlie wanted to be a rock star and believed he would be, once he was discovered. Wilson got Tony Melcher to listen to Manson’s music, but it went nowhere. (The house Tate was murdered in was the house Melcher was living in at the time Manson knew him). Most of the attraction Manson had to those he wanted charity from was his group of sexually compliant women. They had to have sex with anyone he told them to and had to do anything the person wanted. If they balked, they would be publicly humiliated until they lost their “inhibitions”. Eventually Wilson kicked them all out and the “family” moved to the desert.
Manson had an ideology that featured a race war that Blacks were going to win. Once they won, they would realize they didn’t know how to run things and that was where Manson and his family would come in and take over. The “family” had to spend part of everyday walking about in the hot desert looking for the opening to a bottomless cave where they would all live during the coming race war. They would not age while living in this cave and would be strong and healthy when it was time for them to take over. In reality, they were starving, dirty and isolated. Women were not allowed to use birth control, as it was “unnatural”. Likewise, hospital births were “unnatural”. Daily Bible readings were mandatory. (Manson thought he was Jesus Christ). After the murders, some tried to escape, but ineptitude and confusion brought most of them back.
The murders were meant to lead police to believe they had been committed by the Black Panthers (hence the slogans written in blood, etc). Manson was hoping to jump start the race war he prophesied, and also to make it look like a similar crime that one his friends was in jail for had been committed by the Black Panther’s. The police never considered this, as Black people did not frequent the areas the murders occurred in during the late 60’s. Someone would have noticed.
Charlie Manson and some of his “family” were consequently arrested for car theft. They might never have been implicated for the Tate/LA Bianca murders if it wasn’t for a couple women from his family, who were in prison, were willing to talk and who actually found someone to believe them.
There was nothing mystical or heroic about Charlie, he was an opportunistic sociopath. How is it that people like Manson (others who come to mind are David Koresh and Jim Jones) can have so much influence over others? Reading about his life in the 30’s and 40’s and 50’s helps us see who the Manson of the 60’s really was.
Monday, July 15, 2013
I loved this book. Joyland is about characters, more than anything. Granted, there are a couple ghosts, but they are incidental characters. Since it is published by Hard Case Crime, there is a murder too, but it happened before the timeframe of the book and is peripheral until near the very end, where action takes over and we find out “whodunit”.
The narrator, Devin, is a kind, open soul with a lot of heart. We see all the other characters through his eyes. In spite of his naturally sunny disposition, the start of the book finds Devin with his heart broken by the woman he thought he was going to marry. She throws him under the bus for an Ivy League guy and he starts spending his nights listening to the Doors playing “The End”.
He takes a job in amusement park (selling “fun”) and is encouraged by coworkers who care about him and by his employer who sees his potential. The “carnie folks” have their own “talk”, which is almost a character in its own right. Everyone takes turns doing all the jobs at the carnival, including the dreaded “wearing the fur”. This refers to the dog costume for Howie, the park mascot. It turns out that Devin is as good with kids as he is with adults and he actually likes this part of the job.
To save money, he walks to work. His route takes him by a mansion where a young serious looking woman and a boy in a wheelchair (and a Jack Russell Terrier) live. These characters will play a predominant role in this story.
I can’t add a lot more without giving out spoilers (it is only 288 pages). But more than one person has stated that they were moved to tears by the ending. If you are looking for another “The Shining” this might disappoint. But I hope it would simply satisfy on another level.
"100 extraordinary stories about ordinary things. A literary and economic experiment." 2012
Monday, May 20, 2013
I picked this book off the shelf without knowing the back story on it. I thought it odd that is was in the fiction section, as it seemed to be a book that might be connected with Antiques Roadshow. I opened it up to a page with a wine glass that had a Women & Infants logo. Wondering what the story was behind that I started reading and found myself pulled into a story about family lies, abandonment, reunion, understanding and forgiveness. This, along with some great wine reviews. All on a single page! (Tasting Notes, by Jeff Turrentine). Next I started reading a description of a pink horse toy with marabou feathers for its mane and tail. Whoa-within the page, there was child neglect, an addict mother and the death of her daughters, or did the lady with the pink hair take them somewhere better? She remains haunted by all things pink. (Pink Horse, by Kate Bernheimer).
The premise behind this book is that stories give objects value. The editors (Joshua Glenn & Rob Walker) collected items from garage sales and thrift shops and gave them to various authors (some more well known than others) to create stories about them. They then put the items on e-bay, using the stories as descriptions. They were upfront about the descriptions being fictional. All of the items sold for more than they had been purchased for, many significantly more.
Some reviewed this book as a cynical marketer’s scam. Ad Week pointed out that objects can obviously have their value increased through a robust back story-it’s called advertising. But what was for sale in this instance was more than just the objects, it was the stories themselves. One could “own” a story written by a favorite author, along with the object that inspired it.
While I feel no pull to buy any of the objects, I am enjoying the stories. The hard part is taking my time to savor them, when what I want to do is keep reading through to the end. As stated on NPR, what is fun about this book is finding magic in unexpected places.
Monday, March 25, 2013
In this novel Dan Simmons portrays psychic vampires in a horror genre, which he uses to illuminate real evil in this world. I read this book in 1989 when it was first published and it has stayed with me.
Simmons took the name of this book from a poem written in 1918 by a religious writer, Gerald Manley Hopkins. The story Simmons tells is one of sociopaths with powers. People diagnosed as sociopaths, (or exhibiting all the qualities of such), have no feeling for what others are experiencing. They may think of themselves as being very moral, and or religious. But they are incapable of empathy and so cannot experience any horror they might bring to others. Compound that with beings that can enter one's mind and control one's actions, and you have the premise for this book. Three characters are old mind vampires: Willi, Nina and Melanie. They have been playing a game to see who can make the most people kill themselves, in the most interesting ways, as they are bored with life.
People (and relatives of people) used and abused by these psychic vampires come to realize what they are up against and band together to go after them. One character, Saul Laski, first met Willi in a Nazi death camp where Willi used him and others in a deadly chess game featuring human chess pieces. He has been tracking WIlli ever since. Other protagonists include a young black college student who figures out that his fathers “suicide” was the direct result of interference from one of these creatures, as well as a Southern sheriff who is much more intelligent than he lets on.
The uneasiness one feels reading this book may be due to Simmons changing to the point of view of Melanie Fuller, one of the players of the “game”. Seeing the world through her eyes is horrifying; every murder committed by her is justified by numerous reasons she patiently explains to the reader. It is the sheer banality of her evil that is most disturbing. Simmons shows us how easy it becomes to commit monstrous acts when the ordinary rules of civilized society are suspended. These creatures, who are less than human, use their powers to try to dehumanize those who are human.
At almost 900 pages, this can be a daunting read, yet Simmons pulls it off. This is a “smart person’s” horror read. When the book was reissued in 2009, some felt it was dated, as there are no cell phones, etc. But the basic premise of the book is not affected by that-it is a timeless tale.
Monday, January 28, 2013
This is a very worthy reference text for cooks at any level. Yes, you can now “Google” white sauce, etc and get any amount of suggestions, but this book was my go to place for all things cooking before that option was available. And it still holds.
Did you read about a cooking method that you have questions about? Have a recipe with an ingredient you have never heard of? Need to know what, if anything, you can substitute for an ingredient you do not have? Need some measurement equivalents? How about conversions? Nutritional information of ingredients? A picture of the fish called for in a recipe, as well as a detailed description of the same? Information about poultry production? Obviously I am just scratching the surface here, but there is a lot of useful information in this cookbook.
My favorite edition is the All New, All Purpose Joy of Cooking that came out in 1997. The 2006 75th Anniversary Edition has a lot of new and updated recipes. It is edited by Ethan Becker, Irma Rombauer’s grandson. He applies his “cooking school pizzazz”, but when I compare recipes side by side, I find the recipes from the 1997 edition more to my liking. (My all time favorite pumpkin pie recipe, which includes a whipped cream with brandy topping, is from that edition).
In addition to the wealth of information within, the book is a joy to read. There is much humor, as well as explanations for why they do things the way they do, and how they came to that conclusion. These are woven seamlessly into the recipes. The authors are not the stars of the books, nor were they ever really celebrities. (I remember a contest question asking “who was the author of Joy of Cooking”. Few knew the answer at the time).
While Joy of Cooking is not they only cookbook I use, it is the most indispensable cookbook that I own. If you have never experienced the joy of Joy of Cooking, I highly recommend that you take a peek.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Perhaps it is the time of year, but I love reading books about trees, especially books that include awesome pictures of trees. One of my favorites is Thomas Pakenham’s” Remarkable Trees of the World”. His previous book, “Meetings With Remarkable Trees” concentrated on trees in Britain and Ireland, but this book takes him all around the world. Each featured tree is illuminated with a large picture and a page or so written about why it is included in the book. I am hard pressed to pick a favorite.
A book I have been waiting to hold in my hands is Lewis Blackwell’s “The Life and Love of Trees”. It is on order for the library, and has been for a few months now. I decided to buy it myself, and found out why it may be taking so long. This book was published in 2009 and very well received, but for some reason, it is out of print. Existing copies are selling for over $100.00. I thought I’d found one for $35.00 through an online seller, but when I didn’t hear anything about my order after a couple weeks, I inquired and found it had been cancelled. I could re-order at the higher price.
The book has very beautiful images. Even if we never get the book in, I encourage you to look it up and browse the images that are online. Here is a link to some good ones:
While waiting for this book to arrive, I looked through the catalog to find more tree books I might like and found one called “Seeing Trees” by Nancy Ross Hugo. The sub title-Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees-hints at the wonders inside. This book concentrates on glorious close up shots of leaf buds and flowers and seeds that are often overlooked when observing the whole tree. There is a lot to see and it is worth seeing. Robert Llewellyn’s photography is stunning.
Another tree book that I have on hold is called “The Meaning of Trees: botany, history, healing, lore/by Fred Hageneder. In addition to 70 pictures, the book includes botanical qualities, medicinal uses and cultural symbolism. I can’t wait to read it!
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
I first read this book when it was hot off the press in 1977. I finished it one morning right before going in to work at an Owensboro, KY department store. It was hard to get my mind on work after experiencing the traumatic events at the Overlook Hotel.
For those who may not know the story of the Shining, it is about a troubled family looking to find a geographical cure to their problems (including dad’s drinking) by moving to a isolated hotel where they will be caretakers over the winter. The hotel is haunted. But the story isn’t about the ghosts; it’s about how the evil of the hotel exaggerates and takes over the family’s emotional and psychological states.
The mom tries to hold it together, but she does not understand where her son is coming from (he is psychic, i.e.-“shines”). Dad is basically a good man, but struggles with anger. He wants to drink, but is on the wagon. The hotel bar beckons, complete with a friendly ghostly crowd. He tries to be strong, but cannot hold out. This causes him to neglect his family. Guilt (and psychosis) causes him to turn on them. But when it comes to actually killing his son, he destroys himself to save the child.
If you have only seen the movie, well, you saw a good movie with great acting and a classic scene (even though there is no hatchet in the book).But the book delivers on a deeper level. I highly recommend reading (or re-reading) The Shining and just ENJOYING being held captive by a master story teller.
A Practical and Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening (2012)
Thursday, October 4, 2012
In this book, or rather manual, Mr. Rees adds to the current artisanal fad by presenting (in great detail) the craft of manually sharpening a pencil. He covers ten different types of pencil sharpeners, complete with pictures, sketches and clip art to illuminate the written word. He includes such subjects as warm up tips for the artisan, detailed anatomy of a pencil (I learned that the crimped metal connecting the shaft of the pencil to the eraser is called the ferrule), tools used by the perfectionist, psychological risks of being an artisanal pencil sharpener and how sharpening pencils can enrich your senses.
Mr. Rees believes in taking pride in ones work and gains satisfaction from knowing that people appreciate and enjoy using a masterfully sharpened pencil. He even offers this service to those who desire a hand crafted sharpened pencil, but do not wish to put the effort into it themselves. He offers his own Artisanal Pencil Sharpening service, where for $12.50 plus $2.50 S&H, people can mail in their own pencils to be sharpened by him, or receive a sharpened pencil provided by the craftsman.
His love for his subject is illuminated in his following excerpt:
“Create the proper tension by drawing the faceplate away from the body of the sharpener. You should feel the strength of the faceplate’s springs as they struggle against your fingers to pull the faceplate back to its resting position.
‘Don’t worry, little springs,’ you may whisper, ‘you shall have your rest---but first I have a treat for you to draw into the body of the sharpening mechanism.
Sure enough, with its aperture open and its faceplate extended, the sharpener is finally ready to receive its pencil.”
It is a short book, but includes within its 200+ pages appendixes with recommended web resources, pilgrimage sites and wines that taste like pencils.
I first became acquainted with David Rees through his internet clip art cartoon called “Get Your War On” that became popular during the Bush years One can find this strip, along with other projects by Mr. Rees at his website http://www.mnftiu.cc/
Well worth a quick read for those who like their humor dry.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Bad Glass has a great premise, especially if you are a fan of “what if” science fiction. The science here is physics, or perhaps metaphysics. We never find out. But weird things are happening in Spokane, WA. The military has separated the phenomena into 4 categories: things that appear that should not be there, things that disappear that should be there, voices/noises that have no apparent origin and “all else”. Most fall into the “all else” category; especially the human body parts that meld into inanimate materials, or that become part of other bodies.
The problem for me in reading this book was that I just could not like any of the characters. Dean Walker is a fifth year college student who cashes his last tuition check from his dad takes and off with his camera to cross the border into a quarantined Spokane in order to get unique pictures that he hopes will make his name as a photographer. His “unthinkable” alternative is to graduate and return home to a job in his family firm. In no time at all, he is in tight with a bunch of other young people. Most are there because they are looking for family members who were there when the quarantine went into effect. One, Amanda, is looking for her dog, which sort of figures into what happens to her. I wanted to like Taylor, who helps others, but none of the characters let you, the reader, in on what they are really feeling or what they are about.
Lots of things happen. Lots of interesting things happen. But they do not go anywhere, nor do they connect. I kept reading, as I wanted to know what was happening to Spokane. The “official” line was that there was a huge bloom of psychoactive fungi along the Spokane River that was affecting the minds of the people within its borders. However by the end, Dean’s pictures are leaked to the outside world by a sympathetic military person and they have an impact on the public at large. (“Bad Glass” is actually a photography term, alluding to a lens that isn’t clear). But did this really happen? We don’t know, as Dean had earlier witnessed the (gruesome) death of this person. The reader is led to believe that the city is absorbing the characters. This doesn't seem to be a metaphor.
This book is compared to Samuel Delanely’s Dhalgren in a cover blurb, but the only thing Bad Glass has in common with that book is a young man entering a strange city. I would recommend skimming this book, just for all the ideas that it might stimulate other budding author’s minds.
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