Tag Archives: books

Pepys’s Plate

One of the things Significant Other and I like to listen to when we drive somewhere is the Diary of Samuel Pepys, read by Kenneth Branagh. It’s captivating, edifying, vivid, funny and sad. Pepys wrote a lot about his meals – mostly mutton, it seems, and tankards of liquor – and so I found this discovery of one of his silver plates quite fascinating. Coincidentally, Jeff Jacoby wrote a column just last week about anti-Semitism, and opened it by quoting Pepys’s observations on his 1663 visit to a London synagogue.

Productive Till the End

Andrea Camilleri and Howard Engel died within a day of each other. They were both talented writers; both more successful in their careers later in life (Camilleri much later); both created loved detective characters (Camilleri created Inspector Montalbano, Engel Benny Cooperman).

Howard was a dear friend of ours – he was very kind and personally autographed several books for my mother, who was a big fan. Camilleri’s books have been turned into a popular television series in Italy, one that I watch because a) it’s terrific and b) it helps me keep up my Italian.

May their memories not only be blessings, but a reminder to never stop working!

Animals Nobody Loves

When I was a kid, my mum gave me a book called “Animals Nobody Loves.” I could not put it down – and now, as a getting-older lady, I wish I had kept it. Checked my library app and could not find it (though I found a book with the same title and probably in the same vein, written by someone else). Lo and behold, Amazon has it, and I still remember that cover (see link above)! Well, the glories of Jeff Bezos.

Why do  I mention it? Because two days ago in the New York Times I found this column, which in my view is near perfection.

Epic quote:

World, world, forgive our ignorance and our foolish fears. Absolve us of our anger and our error. In your boundless gift for renewal, disregard our undeserving. For no reason but the hope that one day we will know the beauty of unloved things, stoop to accept our unuttered thanks.

One of those columns where I say, “Man oh man, I wish I had written that!”

Armistice Day 100

So many truly moving ceremonies this morning, in so many countries. I thought the service at the Arc de Triomphe was particularly lovely. I am from the generation that read The Guns of August in school, and while it is an excellent book, I think a much better book for anyone who wants to understand (in as much as one can) the origins of World War I is The Sleepwalkers.

I think this article is worth a read, though it is painful. It is about animals who die in war. I know my uncle wrote frequently about animals during his training period in the UK, and also fondly about the dogs “adopted” by his regiment. Please do continue to visit this website, where I am posting my uncle’s letters home from World War II (as well as his poems and family photographs and documents).

V.S. Naipaul, RIP

He wrote four masterpieces: A House for Mr. Biswas; Among the Believers; Guerrillas; Miguel Street. That is many more masterpieces than many of us will write. He was, apparently, a cantankerous fellow, but what I loved most about him was this interview he gave about his kitty (oddly, the kitty is not mentioned in the headline). He understood the love of a cat. His feelings about Augustus are the feelings I had (and have) for all the cats of my life.

Israel at 70

I just finished Martha Gellhorn’s The Face of War and am convinced she was an even better war writer than A. J. Liebling. Her essays on the Six Day War and its aftermath are not to be missed. I love this quote, and post it for the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence.

Her neighbors oblige Israel to waste resources and time on military strength. Israelis are not fond of being warriors; they have no choice. But Israel is far more than a bulwark. It produces funny wine and good books, scientists, musicians and formers of genius. It may have the highest I.Q. per capita in the world. It is brave. It is there to stay.

Note: several Israeli friends have pointed out that Israeli wine has improved a great deal over the years. (The above quote is from 1967.) At any rate, Gellhorn is insanely perceptive about the “work” of UNRWA, among other things, and rather than go over all of that I will simply link back to a piece she wrote in the Atlantic in 1961, in which we see that where the Jews are concerned, the thinly-veiled anti-Semitism that governs much reaction to them has always been around and sadly, may never disappear. Along the same plus ca change lines, please check out James Michener’s letter to The New York Review of Books, written shortly after the Six Day War. (And no, Michener was not one of the anti-Semites in question, but rather, someone who, like Gellhorn, saw through such nonsense.)

I’ve written about this many times, of course, but it remains distressing to me that I have relatives of the “I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m just anti-Zionist” or “Zionism is racism” variety. I even have one relative who tried to calibrate by asking me to define Zionism when I pointed out that equating Zionism with racism was, in fact, anti-Semitic. It was as though she were trying to suggest there were different definitions of it and that some were indeed racist. Nonsense, of course, but to paraphrase Swift, you can’t reason someone out of a belief into which they were not reasoned in the first place.

It seems to me that for a great many people, mostly on the left, Israel’s most unpardonable offence is not only having survived 1967, but having triumphed. Israel will never be forgiven for this, in the same way the Jews will never truly be forgiven by those same people for having survived the Shoah.

It’s a shame the anti-Semites on the left can’t see Israel for what it is: the answer to millennia of systematic oppression, discrimination and state-organized mass murder. I don’t see it as an anachronism and I don’t believe for a second that those past horrors will stay in the past. (Please see the aforementioned paragraphs about many of my relatives.) I also believe that if the ideological left weren’t leading the anti-Israel charge, aligned with Hamas and Hezbollah and so many odious others, there might by now be a two-state solution. The result of this demonization of Israel is the impossibility of fair and realistic negotiations.  

I just hope Israel will never be fully abandoned, despite the attempts of ideological “progressives” to cast it as an ideological depravity or to assert that 
the very idea of a Jewish state is a crime or racist.