Monday, May 31, 2010

Son Report: Back In The New York Times With Hutchins East

Son Number Two is about as self-effacing as any artist you would ever meet, but despite any efforts on his part, the New York Times keeps writing about him and publishing his picture.In today's Times, the reviewer, Steve Smith, reports on the inaugural concert of "Hutchins East," a new ensemble that SNT has organized to play on a special group of instruments based on the violin family.  The concert included two of SNT's own compositions. The wife commented, "He is still wearing that shirt we gave him years ago."(Yes, he is still playing with JACK, whom we are going to hear Friday night in New York.We are going to deliver a baby crib made by my father from a cedar tree he cut down on my grandfather's farm.  Is that fantastic or what?)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book Report: Let's Hear It For The Little Black Dresses

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
At last, a Mennonite who writes like a Jew.  Profane, profound and wickedly funny.  This is one of those juiced up autobiographies where the author admits to some exaggerations for the sake of the narrative.  The book is not so much about Mennonites or black dresses as it is the author's coming to terms with the fact that the man whom she loves left her for another man named Bob whom he met on, followed by a serious car accident six days later that left her with multiple broken bones.

Rhoda Janzen grew up in California, of Russian Mennonite immigrants, who belonged to the Mennonite Brethren Church, a less severe form of Mennonitism than most of the conservative Mennonites with whom people in the Midwest and the east are familiar.  She is now an English professor at Hope College in Michigan

For some reason, several of my friends who are women disliked the book immensely.  It would be fun to talk about the reasons for that. They have said they didn't like the tone she took towards her family, particularly her sisters-in-law whom she skewers rather effectively; that she seemed to flaunt her education and the freedom to use words not normally heard in polite company, and that some of the factual details are wrong.  I have my suspicions about why men might react differently to the book than women.  It probably has to do with why men are always more charitable towards beautiful women in little black dresses.

This book has gotten a lot of attention nationally, getting rave reviews in the New York Times, Time Magazine and other national outlets.  She is apparently now writing another book tentatively called "Backsliding," in which she tells about her journey back to a more spiritual outlook and her marriage to a truckdriver.  I can hardly wait.

Monday, May 24, 2010

So, Floyd Landis Is Not An Amish Liar

We strive for truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  I have been convinced by several sources that I was wrong in calling Floyd Landis an Amish Liar.  Neither he nor his parents were ever Amish.  They were extremely conservative Mennonites.  So, Floyd Landis is a Mennonite Liar. 

And, it turns out that Spark Plug McGee, the stripper who broke up Sandra Bullock's marriage was never Amish either.  She wasn't even Mennonite.  She was just a sleazy publicity hound who thought she could extend her 15 minutes of fame by claiming she was Amish.  But, apparently she did not lie about having sex with Sandra Bullock's husband, Jesse James.  And he wasn't Amish or Mennonite either.

So there.  Let it never be said that I am too proud to admit my mistakes.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Book Report: "Following the Equator" by Mark Twain

Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World by Mark Twain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I feel sorry for folks whose exposure to Mark Twain is limited to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  Although those are good books, I really love his travel writing.  Following the Equator is not a book you would want to read to find out the best route to take, the best places to eat and sleep or what to see.  But, it is a book to read if you enjoy sardonic humor, with Twain's wry comments about what he sees.  One surprising thing to me, given Twain's causal use of racial slurs is his outrage at how the whites in South Africa were treating the blacks, which he linked to how Americans treated native Americans.  But the reason to read Twain these days is that he is still so funny.  Here's a passage about the clothes he saw the Boers wearing in South Africa:
A gaunt, shackly country lout six feet high, in battered gray slouched hat with wide brim and old resin-colored breeches, had on a hideous brand-new woolen coat which was imitation tiger skin-- wavy broad stripes of dazzling yellow and deep brown.  I thought he ought to be hanged, and asked the stationmaster if it could be arranged.  He said no; and not only that, but said it rudely; said it with a quite unnecessary show of feeling.  Then he muttered something about my being a jackass, and walked away and pointed me out to people, and did everything he could to turn public sentiment against me.  It is what one gets for trying to do good.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Floyd Landis: An Amish Liar

Having grown up Amish, it is no big shock to me to find out that Amish(and conservative Christians generally) are not morally or ethically superior in any way to their more worldly neighbors. But Amish, in particular, have such great public relations that the world, in general, is surprised to find out their values are just like everyone else's. So, Floyd Landis, the ex-Amish bicyclist, whose parents took such care in raising him that they shielded him from such corrupting influences as television and movies, turns out to be as big a liar as the worst beer-guzzling, couch-potato, porn-movie watching atheist.

Landis, you may recall, was stripped of his title, after winning the 2006 Tour de France, because evidence of doping turned up in his post-race blood test. Landis has spent the last four years defending himself; soliciting contributions to a fund to sue the Tour de France for stripping him of his title; turning up on television (as recently as several weeks ago on Larry King Live) to proclaim his innocence.

Now, a few days ago, he admits it was all a big lie.  But, he says, he was not the only one.  Everyone else was doing it too, including his former teammate and best friend, Lance Armstrong.  I have no idea whether everyone else was doing it too, but I sure wouldn't take Floyd Landis's word for it.  He's an admitted liar.  The best thing for Landis to do is to go back to Pennsylvania, and help his father clean out the barn.  He has proven he is an expert at shoveling manure.  And he won't need any dope to enhance his performance.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Report: "The Facts," by Philip Roth

The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography by Philip Roth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The "facts" part of this book, purportedly the autobiography of Philip Roth is not that interesting. Roth focuses on five events in his life, but leaves out so much that you wonder why he bothers. But then Roth has his alter ego, Zuckerman, comment on and criticize what he has written. That is very interesting, as he considers the difference between fact and fiction and explains how fiction can be more truthful than fact. What the book comes down to is not about the facts of the life of Philip Roth, but an interesting exploration or truth and fiction. The last Zuckerman chapter brought my rating of the book up from three to four stars.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Book Report: "Once on a Moonless Night" by Dai Sijie

Once on a Moonless Night (Wheeler Hardcover) Once on a Moonless Night by Dai Sijie

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I really wanted to like this book. I like Sijie's "Balzac and the Chinese Seamstress." My wife likes the book and recommended it for our book club. But I just couldn't get into it. I re-read the first 20 pages about three times trying to make sense of it. Names pop up without any introduction and then when they're mentioned again, I had to go back and try to figure out who that character is. There are essentially three narrators, and the point of view keeps shifting without warning. After I finally got through the book, I went back and read again the first 100 pages and now it makes sense. But the payoff doesn't warrant the effort. I'm sorry Rosalee.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book Report: "Bridge of Sighs" by Richard Russo

Bridge of Sighs Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I am not a big Richard Russo fan. Another reviewer has called him narcissistic and that's how I felt about "Nobody's Fool." But this is very nearly a perfect book. The characters are drawn with care and the author makes you care about them. The characters change over time, but all within what is credible for that character to do. Russo is a master at revealing information slowly and at using multiple points of view to keep the story interesting. It is a long book, one that you wish would be longer. My most frequent complaint about books I read is that a perfectly good book is ruined by a hokey, unbelievable ending. The ending in this book is bittersweet; not too sentimental but overall leaves the reader feeling good. A perfect ending to a nearly perfect book.

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