Tag Archives: books

Roaring Twenties?

Or perhaps, as a friend of mine says, they are more likely to whine. Millennials and such. Speaking of, the last decade started with this article, which remains 100% true, says this GenXer.

What a decade (yes, I know that technically the decade ends at the end of this year, but shush up, pedants) it has been – my mother gone at nearly 93, my auntie at 90, my uncles at 96 and 95 – not unnatural deaths, of course. Dear God, give me their longevity, and not just that, but their quality of life till the end, their insistence on keeping active and contributing. (One small example – my uncle Paddy worked till the age of 78, and not because he had to.) And there were two unnatural deaths, for lack of a better term. My beloved brother at 63 and one of my closest friends from high school at 49. Make hay, et cetera.

There were many celebrity deaths this year – I never got around to posting about so many of these people who were meaningful to me. Well, I did write about Doris. And Diahann. And a couple of my fave writers. What I didn’t do on this site was mention how much I liked Rip Torn – oddly, my mother and I both had a crush on him. He was quite a handsome devil in his youth, and even into his 60s, but then became rather debauched from alcohol. The great Zeffirelli is gone (obituary in Italian) – he was extraordinary and a friend of another extraordinary Italian, Oriana Fallaci. I believe they both understood how much the West was/is threatened, largely by our own complacency.

Other great figures gone: Herman Wouk; Harold Bloom; Clive James.

And how could I have failed to post about Valerie Harper? My only excuse is that between late August (when she died) and about a week before Christmas, I was extremely busy with work. So all I can say is, Val, we loved you. Thank you. So many clips from which to choose, but I do so adore Rhoda Morgenstern’s comments about makeup, from the 6 minute 15 second mark on here (and yes, young people, that is indeed Marge Simpson as Rhoda’s sister):

And those of us who have struggled with our weight (a constant battle for me) always love this MTM episode:

Rest in peace all, including the decade (again, shush up, pedants).

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. Michener was hardly an unequivocal supporter of Israel and yet, his letter makes clear, he was able to see through a good deal of  bigotry. (Seriously, this letter has made me want to read his books, which I had previously snootily dismissed as schlocky.)

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, left or right, 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 Holocaust.

It’s a shame so many can’t see Israel for what it is: a national liberation movement, a return of indigenous people to their land, 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. 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 soi-disant “progressives” to cast it as an ideological depravity or to assert that 
the very idea of a Jewish state is a crime or racist.