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Posts from the ‘#20BooksOfSummer 2017’ Category


Ursula Le Guin


What is my first impression?

  1. That reading anything by Ursula Le Guin will challenge you.
  2. You have to  read between the lines and
  3. unveil the conflicts that the text carefully covers up.
  4. Ursula Le Guin writes about speculative fiction…what if.
  5. Her books focus on psychological states and perceptions.
  6. Le Guin writes more about the inner space.
  7. PS: I enjoy 1 short story by Le Guin
  8. ….more than a entire novels by other writers!


Title:    Vaster  Than Empires and More Slow

  1. The title of the story is taken from a poem by Andrew Marvell:
  2. titled “To His Coy Mistress
  3. The line from which the title is derived reads:
  4. “Our vegetable love should grow/Vaster than empires, and more slow.”



  1. Group of surveyors are on a exploratory  mission to World 4470,
  2. Could they establish a new colony in this  alien world?
  3. Something big had tried to attack Porlark, a crew member, in the forest.
  4. Osden is the group’s Sensor.
  5. He must attempt to detect any presence of intelligent life.
  6. Could Osden confirm that there is a sentient-life form in the forest?
  7. Days later in the forest Osden failed to call in to the mother ship as agreed.
  8. The explorers find him badly beaten…but still alive.
  9. What happened?


  1. Osden:
  2. All his life he feels himself an outsider….an alien.
  3. He yearns to be whole.
  4. “To have roots and no enemies. To be entire.  Do you see?
  5. No invasion. No others…to be whole.”


Character revealed:

  1. Osden has changed under the influence of the vegetative intelligence.
  2. Despite his singular power of empathy… he says in the beginning:
  3. “Can’t you understand that I don’t give a damn about all of you?
  4. On the last page….as Osden choses to disappear into the forest he says:
  5. “Listen, I will you well” before leaving his colleagues


Image:  forest-mind

  1. Osden fell and lay sunk in the roots of the forest.
  2. “I felt the fear and it kept growing.
  3. As if they’d finally known I was there
  4. lying on them, under them, among them…
  5. ..the thing they feared.”


Epiphany moment:    the forest mind evokes rejection

  1. “It’s message is rejection.
  2. But rejection is my salvation.
  3. It’s not intelligent.    But I am”
  4. Osden explains that he picks up more than the fear…
  5. …before the ‘forest-mind’ panicked…there was serenity.
  6. Osden says as he jumps out the door…” I am coming.”



  1. He had taken the fear into himself
  2. ….accepting, had transcended it.
  3. He had given up his self to the alien,
  4. …and unreserved surrender.



  1. Osden’s disillusionment turned into
  2. ….a good thing, the wise thing.
  3. He learned to accept the fear….it opened doors and
  4. dissolved what was not longer useful.
  5. What one fears is alien….
  6. Go with it. Look boldly at all beliefs, not cynically.
  7. Look fairly.
  8. Do not be too quick to find answers  set in stone.
  9.  Stay open, flexible.

Rue des Boutiques Obscures – Modiano

Author: Patrick Modiano  (1945)
Title:  Rue des Boutiques Obscures

Cover: Via delle Botteghe Oscure (Rome)
Published: 1978
Dedication: Pour Rudy (brother died leukemia); Pour mon père
Language: French
Theme:  memory, identity, WWII
Table of contents:   47 chapters,  251  pages
Trivia:  Awarded the Prix Goncourt 1978  and Nobel Prize for Literature 2014.



#NobelPrize Challenge


  • Guy Roland – retired detective; decides to search for his identity. He suffers from memory lost due to damage that was caused by an accident at 15 yrs.
  • Jimmy Pedro Stern (aka Pedro McEvoy) – Greek-Jew;
    diplomat for Rep. Dominica TRIVIA: McEvoy was the name of a good friend of Modiano’s father
  • Denise Coudreuse –  French fashion model TRIVIA: Denise name of Modiano’s first love
  • Freddie Howard de Luz –  Englishman from Mauritius; lives with Denise
  • Gay Orlow – young Russian girl, now American dancer
  • André Wildmer (aka Dédé Wildmer) –  English former horse jockey



The characters travel to the village of Megève to flee the German Occupation of Paris.
Mègeve was established in the 1920s as a French alternative to Saint-Moritz.

Pedro and Denise decide to flee to Switzerland.
They pay a smuggler but he abandons them in the snowy mountains.
Having partially recovered his memory, Guy Roland goes to look for Freddie.
Guy travels to Bora-Bora.
Unfortunately his old friend has just died in a boating accident (suicide?)
The only connection left to Guy’s past is an address in Rome from 1930:

2, rue des  Boutiques Obscures.




Strong point:

French language is simple, easy to follow.
I wanted to experience this book at another level: visually.
Before reading each chapter I tracked down all the streets, oriented myself in that part of Paris (or elsewhere) and searched for images of buildings/churches mentioned.
I could follow Modiano’s descriptions exactly.


Strong point:

There are several phrases that will reappear to give the reader a clue to the mystery!  Very clever!
parfum poivré;  nous vivons un drôle d’époque;  le saule pleureur (weeping willow); faire le canot…


Strong point:

Similarities I found in this book and another book by Modiano L’Herbe des Nuits:

Buildings with 2 exits:
Quote from Modiano clearly reveals the 2 exits:
Rue des  Boutiques Obscures:
small Russian church rue Claude Lorrain where Guy finally finds  M.Stoppia.
“Je crois […] tous les immeubles de Paris qui possédaient de doubles issues.” (pg 210)

L’Herbe des Nuits:
Apt building with two exits where Jean’s girlfriend has an appointment.

Café  where  you feel protected from outside world:
L’Herbe des Nuits: Le café de la rue d’Odessa
Rue des  Boutiques Obscures: café de la place Blanche

Drifting thoughts:
L’Herbe des Nuits: Jean slips in and out of their  “memory worlds’  and  return to the present
Rue des  Boutiques Obscures: Guy slips in and out of their  “memory worlds  and  return to the present.

Surprise: changing’ narrator just creeps up on you!
Page 160-163; 168-169 suddenly Guy Roland disappears and
‘Pedro McEvoy’ tells the reader about his rendez-vouswith Denise.
I had to read these pages twice before I realized the ‘speaker’ had been switched!


Strong point:

Guy Roland  is looking for his past…which gives the book a ‘detective like’ feeling.
Guy shows photographs of himself with friends from his past to people he hopes can give him information:
“Do you think I resemble this person in the photograph? (pg 45-69-79-91)

The answer is always the same:
“Attendez…attendez ça me revient…”    and this gives Guy a small piece of the puzzle.


Strong point:

Modiano is obsessed with losing the past.
Memory and identity are his main themes.
Modiano can express this in a few simple words:
“…we are all ‘hommes des plages’ (people on a beach)
…the sand holds our  footprint only for a few seconds.” (pg 72)


Strong point:

WW II is often a theme in Modiano’s books.

This book took place in 1965 but the author gives it a WW II feeling in a special way.
Guy Roland always feels ‘uneasy’ on ‘rive droite’ in Paris:  pg 168
“… la peur me remarque, que l’on m’arrête, que l’on me demande mes papiers.” [fear he’s being watched, that one will check his papers].
Between September 1940 and August 1944, the Hotel  Meurice  (rive droite) became the headquarters of General  Von Choltitz, the military governor.

Many collaborators lived on ‘rive droite’ .  This explains Guy’s fears….he remembers the German occupation vividly.


Weak point:

There is no real plot (opening, rising action, climax, denouement).
The story is a collection of fragments out people’s lives and requires concentration to figure out  ‘who is who’ while I read it in French!

Chapter 32 = read carefully!


Last thoughts:

His books are so easy to read in any language.
I enjoyed discovering how many tiny clues were mentioned in the book

….that were related to his own life/family story.
First love, Denise
Land: Argentina that left its mark on Modiano.
Café in Paris with sign ‘speak flemish’ (dutch)…
Modiano’s mother was Belgian.


Memory can be a curse or a blessing.
It gives us our identity
…but can prevent us from living in the present.

Be prepared to take a map of Paris with you when you read this book!

Here are just a few of the streets, bridges and quais mentioned:
Rue des Boutiques Obscures
Rue Anatole de la Forge
Rue Charles Marie Widor
Rue Claude Lorrain
Rue Boileau
Rue Chardon Lagache
Boulevard Richard Wallace
Quai du général Koenig
Avenue de New York
Rue de Bassano
Rue Cambacérès
Rue Cambon
19 quai d’austerlitz Rue Gabrielle
5 rue Foucault Avenue Hoche
Quai de Passy Pont de Bir Hakeim
Avenue de New York
Place de l’Alma Cours-La-Reine
Concorde Saint-Honoré Cambon
Rue Mirabeau



An American Tragedy

  • Author: T. Dreiser
  • Title: An American Tragedy
  • Published: 1925
  • Trivia: T. Dreiser never finished high-school
  • …but was nominated for a Nobel Prize 1930
  • #NeverGiveUp
  • Trivia: The novel was banned in Boston.
  •  A trial and an appeal dragged on in the courts for years.
  • List: Modern Library’s Top 100 Novels 20th C
  • #20BooksOfSummer



  • Trivia: Dreiser based the book on a notorious criminal case.
  • Chester Gillette murder of Grace Brown in 1906
  • an upstate New York case that had been given
  • extensive coverage in the newspapers.
  • On July 11, 1906, resort owners found an overturned boat and
  • the body of 20-year-old Grace Brown
  • …at Big Moose Lake in New York.
  • Clyde Griffiths – same initials as Chester Gillette




1. Explain the title. In what way is it suitable to the story?
The word tragedy means a drama about a serious matter
human suffering with a terrible end of events.
Tragedy here is Clyde wants a bit of freedom and pleasure.
He fails to attain it
The word American refers to Dreiser’s idea that
his in the story could happen only in America.
The barriers between social classes were low.
Clyde was able to meet Sondra (upper-class)
In England for instance, social classes did not mix..


2.What is the predominant element in the story?
Naturalism: Clyde’s life is determined by
instinct, heredity, and environment.
Run!- Clyde’s thoughtless escape after  ‘hit-and-run’. (instinct)
Parents are sidewalk preachers  from  lower class. (heredity)
Clyde is a victim of (environment)
gap between social classes and a corrupt judicial system.


3. Who are the major characters?
Clyde Griffiths:
Chaser of the American Dream of wealth and success.
He rises from his simple beginnings.
He is swept up in the promise of luxury and fast living.
Roberta Alden:
Roberta is a poor factory girl.
She believes in love and has a secret relationship with Clyde.
Roberta is a threat to Clde’s relationship with Sondra.
Clyde plots to murder Roberta.


4. What sort of conflict confronts the leading character?
a. external – Clyde is from poor family.
He has not been raised to compete for power and wealth.
b. internal – Clyde lacks the moral compass to guide his actions.
He is motivated only by his instincts for money and a desirable mate


5. Where does the primary action take place?
Kansas City, Missouri – first job in upscale hotel
Lycurgus New York – second job in uncle’s textile factory
Lakes or ponds:
Uncle Samuel’s big house on a shimmering lake.
Clyde romances Hortence on skating pond.
Crum Lake: Clyde accidentally meets Roberta on the lake.
Big Bittern Lake: Roberta ’s tragedy occurs on the lake.
Bear Lake: Clyde is arrested arrested while boating on the lake


6. What is the structure of the story?
a. The first thing I noticed was the size of the book!
b. 100 chapters divided into 3 books, each representing a fase in Clyde’s life.
c. Book 1: Kansas City job; romance Hortence; hit and run accident
d. Book 2: death of Roberta and unborn baby
e. Book 3: capture, trial and execution
f. It is identical to a 3-act play: introduction – obstacle – resolution.
Trivia: Dreiser’s huge manuscript was cut by editors nearly in half
before it was published by Horace Liveright in 1925.


7. Does this story create any special mood?
There is a mood of empathy created in the story.
Feelings of pity, sympathy, sorrow are aroused
by the catastrophic love affair between Clyde and Roberta.
Clyde doesn’t quite decide to kill Roberta, but she dies anyway.
This creates the dramatic tension.
We feel uneasiness with her suffering.
We feel a need to find justice for this tragedy.


8. Does this story contain any of the following elements?
a. Symbolism: An American Tragedy is filled with symbols.
rented rowboats (lower class)
power launches skimming across lakes (upper-class)
cry of bird – boating accident on Big Bittern Lake (Roberta’s cry for help)
b. irony: religious upbringing cannot save Clyde from his lack of
moral character.


9. Does the story have a thematic message?
Dreiser emphasized the theme of the ‘haves vs have-nots’.
People living the American dream vs people who lived hard up.
Cylde Griffith’s religious preaching parents, (lower class)
Clyde’s mistress, Roberta, a poor factory girl (lower class)
Clyde’s uncle Samuel, businessman, rich (upper-class)
Clyde’s love interest, Sondra, a rich socialite (upper-class)



  1.  Impressive and controversial book…
  2. it deserves to be on  Modern Library’s top 100 novels list.
  3. Weak point – the book is not perfect.
  4. Dreiser often drifts off into long convoluted sentences.
  5. Example: ch 32
  6. If you interested have a look at this one!
  7. Tortured by the need of some mental
  8. […] not the faintest conception.”  (total 98 words)
  9. Weak point – structure is  similar to a 3 act play
  10. …but a very long play!
  11. This is probably the reason why….
  12. I rarely see An American Tragedy on reading lists!

Last thoughts:

  1. I started the book filled with enthusiasm.
  2. At the end of part one I realized this is a long,
  3. drawn out melodrama (soap-opera-ish) that seemed endless.
  4. Dreiser goes overboard with descriptions.
  5. soda fountains, hotel, belhops  hopping around
  6. like Mexican jumping beans, grand houses,
  7. a bevy of factory girls….etc.
  8. The book felt massive.
  9. I dragged myself through 100 chapters
  10. but  must confess  I skimmed the long descriptions
  11. …and concentrated on the dialogue, the real story.
  12. On a positive note…
  13. …it still is a classic in American literature.
  14. But I have read better books…
  15. like those of Steinbeck  and William Faulkner.
  16. If you have the time for a long read…this is your book!



Slow down…


  1. I can collect all the LISTS in the world.
  2. I can join a million reading challenges.
  3. But a book all comes down to my mood.
  4. At the moment…I’m in a rant  mood.


  1. I’ve been so disappointed with a few classics on
  2. Modern Library’s  list of best 100 novel…so dejected.
  3. Who puts three James Henry books on  the list
  4. one was more than enough?
  5. Light-weights….
  6. The Postman Always Rings Twice,
  7. From Here to Eternity, Kim, Catcher In The Rye
  8. USA by Dos Passos and The Magnificient Ambersons
  9. …are good but not TOP 100 novel-ish.
  10. So I have decided to replace the Books I Dread
  11. with some books  I really want to read.
  12. Terry Pratchett was a very wise man…..



  1. I took the time to think for myself and choose books
  2. Some are diamonds…some are glass…
  3. but most important
  4. ….they are all books I want to read


Science fiction:  Fahrenheit 451 – R. Bradbury

  • I always thought that science fiction was just mumbo-jumbo.
  • How wrong I have been.
  • In 1953  SF moved from magazines to the novel genre.
  • There was a market for these books filled with veiled
  • commentary on the times.
  • Bradbury touches on  destruction of culture (book burning by Nazis)
  • public’s addiction to TV, the power of advertising and McCarthyism.
  • This is just the first SF book I will read.
  • I want to learn about all that I have been missing!


Science fiction:    The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula Le Guin

  • I hope Ursula Le Guin wins the Nobel Prize one day.
  • It should be soon because she is 88 years old.
  • What is her strength?
  • She gives us a view from the other side…
  • showing us that that our perception of reality may be incomplete.
  • The author M. Chabon says Le Guin gave 21st C writers new tools
  • to work in the “borderlands,” the place where the fantastic enters literature.


Biography:  Orwell – M. Shelden

  • I found this book by accident.
  • Again…dreading books by George Orwell I thought
  • if I learn more about the man….reading his books would be easier.


Fiction:  1984 – G. Orwell

  • Ironically after reading the introduction to the  Orwell the biography
  • 1984 is a the only book from my ‘dread’ list that
  • …I am keeping on my list.


Fiction:    The Slow Natives – T. Astley


Short Stories:   several collections

  • I need a quick read  while
  • …drinking my morning coffee with the cats.
  • Short stories  have  never lost their artistic value
  • …but I seldom read them!
  • I am going to choose stories from several collections:
  • The New York Stories  – Edith Wharton
  • The Early Stories – John Updike 1/103
  • Complete Stories of – Dorothy Parker
  • The Rendezvous and other Stories – Daphne  du Maurier
  • Collected Stories – Katherine Mansfield
  • Complete Stories of – Flannery O’ Connor
  • The Collected StoriesWilliam Trevor


Crime fiction:    several choices

  • I will try yet again to read more crime fiction.
  • Le Carré – The Perfect Spy
  • Len Deighton – Berlin Game
  • Rex Stout – Some Buried Caesar – READING
  • Olen Steinhauer – An American Spy
  • D. Sayers – Strong Poison



  • I have several books written ‘about books, authors and plays’.
  • In the past I never allowed myself the time to read them.
  • Now it is time…to slow down and enjoy these books.
  • Approaches to Teaching the Plays of August Wilson – S. Shannon, S. Richards
  • Introduction to the American Short Story – M. Scofield
  • The Figure of the Detective – C. Brownson
  • Seamus Heaney – H. Vendler
  • The Politics: in Shakespeare’s History Plays – U. Kizelbach


Magazine:  The New Yorker

  • I have been reading this magazine since grammar school.
  • The literary content was beyond me at the time
  • …I just loved the cartoons.
  • Now every week the magazine arrives…and I ignore it.
  • Why?
  • No time to read it….I say to myself.
  • Now I’m making time to…
  • enjoy one of the best magazine in the world!
  • Issue 26 June 2017 – READ  cover to cover –  03.07.2017


Afbeeldingsresultaat voor terry pratchett quotes


  1. I find the slower I go…the more I want to do!
  2. Terry Pratchett said something that really stayed with me:
  3. “So much universe…so little time.”
  4. Clive Jones  poems Sentenced to Life is a book I cherish.
  5. In his title poem he said:
  6. “No birds touch down in the trees without me seeing them.
  7. I count bees.”
  8. A True lesson in slowing down…
  9. and end of rant.

Wainwright Prize short list 2017


  • If you are looking for a relax read this summer here is a great short list!
  • The Wainwright Prize  not really  promoted in USA, that’s a shame.
  • The Wainwright Prize is a literary prize awarded annually for
  • the best work of general outdoors, nature and UK-based travel writing.
  • The Running Hare – J. Lewis-Stempel – READ (review)





Books I Dread


  • My goal is to read Modern Library’s  Top 100 Novels.
  • But there is one problem:  some of the books I just  DREAD.
  • It seems every time I look at the list I shudder.
  • So without any further ado  here are the top 10.
  • I will read them and get it over with
  • I must muster up the courage…like going to a dentist’s appointment.
  • I’m not even going to buy the books!
  • I’m using  Project Gutenburg and put them on the Kindle.
  • Are there any books you dread?

Update: 30 June 2017   ‘Slow down…’

  1. THE GREAT GATSBY by F. S. Fitzgerald – replacement = W. Trevor short stories
  2. BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley- replacement = Plays of August Wilson
  3. THE WINGS OF THE DOVE by Henry James – replacement = Fahrenheit 451
  4. THE AMBASSADORS by Henry James – replacement = The Left Hand of Darkness
  5. TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald – replacement = The Slow Natives
  6. THE GOLDEN BOWL by Henry James – (too late to replace, almost finished)
  7. POINT COUNTER POINT by A. Huxley- replacement = Strong Poison (D. Sayers)
  8. TROPIC OF CANCER by H. Miller- replacement = Seamus Heaney (H. Vendler)
  9. THE NAKED AND THE DEAD by Norman Mailer – replacement = The Perfect Spy
  10. 1984 by George Orwell – stays on list!


#NeedCoffee  … and lots of it !


Walking the Nile



  1. The expedition to walk the length of the Nile was inspired by
  2. …explorers J. Speke, R. Burton, D. Livingston and H. Stanley.
  3. Wood was accompanied by guides (Ndoole Boston), journalists and friends along the  way.
  4. The expedition was commissioned into a UK TV Channel 4 that aired in January 2015.
  5. Wood detailed the trip in his book Walking the Nile.
  6. Wood was forced to abandon a 450 mile section in South Sudan. (civil war)
  7. He hired new guides, Moez and Turbo…together they finished the epic walk.

Milestone: (ch 13)

  • …after a  5 month walk
  • a symbolic moment
  • …when Blue Nile and White Nile meet.
  • Wood dips his hands into the water….finally he has reached The Nile.


Obstacle:  Meroe Dam  in Sudan…importance cannot be overestimated

  • Wood will never get near this  place in Sudan….he would be shot.
  • Wood would have to make a 1 week detour through the desert with 3 camels.


Pyramids of Meroe:

  • As Wood gazes on the Pyramids of Meroe
  • …built between 2,700 and 2,300 years ago
  • …Wood he feels very small and humbled.



  1. The book is not what I expected….
  2. This was my own fault.
  3. The title is clear Walking the Nile and
  4. I envisaged a trip on The Nile with more attention to the river itself.
  5. There is a pattern at times in the writing:
  6. Walk, enter town, recap past history about the village or river, Wood’s guide,
  7. Ndoole Boston adds his views, travelers meet the locals, eat, drink
  8. ….leave town and try to avoid phython snakes,
  9. ….croc’s an hippo’s, red mites, insects and feral dogs.
  10. I found chapters 10-17  to be the best.
  11. The writing came imbued with Wood’s doubts, his emotions
  12. …after the death of  a friend in Sudan from extreme heatstroke, Matt Power,
  13. …and Wood’s  longing to finish what he had started.
  14. Day 271 of a ninth month journey
  15.  I felt skin shivers…when I read Levison Wood finally
  16. plunged into the foaming surf of the the Mediterranean.
  17. Europe felt close and, with it, home.
  18. Well-done, Levinson, bravo!
  19. #GoodFeelingBook
  20. PS: if you can try to read the book and look at the Google images
  21. …so you can follow Wood’s journey in color!

Levison Wood, ex-British Army officer  (1982)




The Death of the Heart


1. Explain the title. In what way is it suitable to the story?
a. The title indicates that something will die in the story
b. ….it is a challenge to the reader to discover it


2. Who are the  main characters?
a. Portia:
b. Love child Thomas’s father, upsets Quayne’s posh London lifestyle
c. Thomas and Anna Quayne:
d. Anna weds Thomas on the rebound.
e. It is a undemanding marriage lacking passion.


3. How does the story get started?
a. Thomas and Anna Quayne open the door with no enthusiasm
b. to find a 15 yr orphaned half sister of Thomas on the doorstep.
c. Portia is an outsider who disrupts their orderly and quiet life.
d. The Quaynes have an arranged marriage.
e. Anna who is childless settles for other admirers,
f. St. Quentin, Eddie and Major Brutt,
g. who will entertain her without the need for physical rewards.


4. What sort of conflict confronts the leading characters?
a. external – Thomas and Anna show brittle sophistication accepting outsider Portia.
b.They feel they are doing the right and proper thing.
c. internal – Thomas and Anna suffer from insecurities; collapsing marriage
d. Portia does not need the right thing (a polished education for society)
e. but needs the good thing (love and attention)
f. Thomas and Anna struggle to understand the difference.
g. external – Portia is desperate to find her place in her new world.
h. internal – Portia struggles with illusion of romantic love (affair Eddie; Maj. Brutt)
i. and her loss of innocence.


5. What is the structure of the book?
a. 3 parts – The World – The Flesh – The Devil (temptations for Portia)
b. 3 seasons – Winter – Spring – Summer
c. 3 places – London – Seale-on-Sea (Kent coastal village) – London


6. Does this story create any special mood?
a. Setting: Bowen goes into great detail describing houses and rooms.
b. Windsor Terrace: gleaming marble (cold, hard); fireplace with a ‘hard’ glow
c. House lacks real warmth.
c. Seale-on-Sea: plumbing pipes that gurgle, people tumbling down stairs, parties.
d. House is filled with emotions.


7. What is the general theme of the story?
a. Isolation: each character flees to private space in the house
b. Portia: her room with barred window
c. Anna: her room to read love letters kept in locked drawers or bathroom
d. Thomas: his downstairs study
e. Mother-daughter relationship:
f. motherless girl needs Anna
g. childless woman needs Portia
h. ….but they have difficulty finding each other.



  1. This is Elizabeth Bowen’s masterpiece.
  2. She describes pre-WWII British upper-middle class.
  3. Bowen’s words are satirical and at times humorous.
  4. Yet….the book did not sweep me off my feet.
  5. Why?
  6. The book was a sea of pauses, silences, a few clever
  7. gestures to reveal character and a diary that upset so many lives
  8. ….but not much else.
  9. I missed words that sent chills down my spine.
  10. For example: Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth (pg 173)
  11. “What Lily craved was the darkness made by enfolding arms,
  12. …silence which is not solitude but…compassion.”
  13. Nowhere in The Death of the Heart did I read such depth of thought.
  14. On a positive note…it is an remains a classic, like it or not.



American Ulysses


  • Author R.C. White
  • Title: American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant
  • Published: 2016
  • Trivia: #20BooksOfSummer
  • Trivia: New York Times best seller



  1. The book is a biography so the structure is what you would expect.
  2. What you don’t expect is White’s ability to show Grant in 3- dimensions.
  3. Husband – military strategic genius – pragmatic president.


  • Family life in Ohio
  • Military study at West Point
  • Love affair with ‘my dear Julia’ Dent
  • Mexican-American War
  • Civil War
  • 18th president of United States
  • Retirement (30 month trip around the world)
  • Writing memoirs in collaboration with Mark Twain.


Why did I read this book?

My main purpose was to learn why Grant was so successful in the Civil War?

  1. I followed the chapters about the battles at Belmont, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson
  2. Shiloh, Iuka, Vicksburg, Chattanooga and Richmond.
  3. I used google maps and wikipedia to form an image of the battlefield.
  4. It was a fascinating read.
  5. Grant would scout the landscape to discover IF he could use it to his advantage.
  6. His emphasis was on:
  7. strategy: siege – classic…surround and just wait.
  8. (broke out of siege in Chattanooga; set up 12 mi siege line around Vicksburg)
  9. speed: delay only accrues credit for the defender (regroup/resupply)
  10. break the cracker line: (supply lines food and ammunitions)
  11. create diversions, cut telegraph lines, smash RR tracks and bridges
  12. Be alert: scurrying rabbits and squirrels indicated to the ‘pickets’ that
  13. enemy infantry were creeping closer through the brush.
  14. broad battlefield: keep enemy guessing where Grant would strike (Vicksburg)


What were some  dangers that Grant tried to avoid?

  1. Over confidence of troops after newspapers predict an easy victory at Shiloh.
  2. Miscommunication and mud:
  3. …terrain can delay messages and arrival of reserve troops.
  4. Intelligence:
  5. …danger of believing all deserters who bring news of enemy positions and size.
  6. Inflated egos of commanders (McClernand was Grant’s nemesis)
  7. Don’t ever leave HQ without assigning a second in command.
  8. Teach soldiers to live off land and stretch 2 days rations over 7 days!


Why was Grant such a great Civil War general?

  1. He was  always calm and decisive.
  2. He molded army and navy forces into one team.
  3. He listened and asked questions.
  4. He did not micromanage (trusted commanders).
  5. He seldom engaged in criticism after a battle.
  6. He avoid unnecessary insult to brave soldiers (surrender Gen Lee Appomattox)
  7. Whenever playing defense
  8. ……Grant always planned to go on offense, plan B.


Last thoughts:

  1. When I finished this book last night
  2. …and read about Grant’s final campaign (death)
  3. I felt I lost a friend.
  4. This was the most moving biography I’ve read in a long time.
  5. Personally, parts 1-3  were the best (youth, West Point, Civil War).
  6. Parts 4-6 (Reconstruction,  18th President, World tour) were less interesting.
  7. What a great general
  8. …. he won the Civil War and impressed us with his humility.
  9. #MustRead

Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh



1. Explain the title. In what way is it suitable to the story?
The title refers to Williams’s frequent trips to the artsy enclave of Provincetown Massachusetts. The Pilgrims first landed near the site of modern Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod in November 1620 before moving to Plymouth. They made a pilgrimage for religious freedom, Williams made his his pilgrimage for the the animated Greek male marble sashaying around the P-town dinner party circuit.


2. What sort of conflict confronts Tennessee Williams?
a.external – Williams is forever battling between the destructive (pills, alcohol ) and creative (plays).
b.internal – He tires to free himself from his mother’s puritan repression, while trying to win the affection of distant, dismissive and combustible father.


3. How is the conflict resolved?
As soon as Williams started his writing (won 1000,— Rockefeller Scholarship) he left home.
He had to leave the unsayable secrets (sister Rose slowly sinking into madness), the sense of masquerade (parents toxic marriage) and the palpable emptiness.

4.  How does the author reveal Williams to the reader?
Conversations with partners (Frank Merlo), producers (Elia Kazan) and parasites ( other riff raft that hung on to Williams’s coat tails especially Maria Britneva). Lahr has made an extensive use of the notes and personal diaries of Tennessee Williams.


5. Did you identify with any of the characters in William’s plays?
No, I couldn’t identify with the characters. Luckily I did not have a father “who fell in love with distance (pg 36) or a prim and proper mother who suffocated him in her ‘haunted household (pg 33).


6. Does this story contain any symbolism?
Glass Menagerie: The title represents the ‘famlly’s fragility’ (William’s family). The decor on stage, the fire escape, alley and secondhand furniture represented Tennessee’s existence in St. Louis Missouri.
Street Car Named Desire.: But I found the most profound symbolism in SCND:
Blanche DuBois asks for directions to her sister’s apartment. She must take two streetcars one named ‘Desire’ the other ‘Cemeteries’ and she will be at her sister’s address ‘Elysian Fields’ ( mythological land of the dead).
Blanche is literally and figuratively at the end of the line. (pg 121)
Blanche DuBois is Tennessee Williams who longs for the safety of embrace for the release of unhappiness ( last line as she falls into the arms of a doctor who takes her to a mental institution) “ “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

7. Was there a villain in the story?
Tennessee William’s mother: She boasted “ the only psychiatrist in whom I believe is our Lord” (pg 55). She lodged a paranoia and terror in her children. She changed Tennessee’s behaviour and drove Rose her daughter into madness.


8. Can you find any examples of figurative language?
The plays are the literary works that Williams will be remembered for, but I could his poems are capable of arousing deep emotion. When Williams felt he was living on “borrowed creativy” he wrote this poem to shape his lack of inspiration.

“Old men go mad at night, but are not Lears
There is no kingly howling of their rage, their grief, their fears dementedly, […]
No title of dignity, now, no height of old estate, give stature to the drama

Ungrateful heirs, indeed! Tier treacherous seed
turns them away from more than tall gold-hammered doors:
Exiles them into such enormous night
skies have no room for it

And old men have no Fools except themselves.


9. What do you think the purpose of the Tennessee Williams was by writing his most famous plays (Glass Menagerie, Streetcar named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth) ?
Williams used his plays to enter an imaginary world: “ Suddenly I found that I had a stage inside me: actors appeared out of nowhere…and too the stage over.” ( pg 34).
The driving force, impulse and impetus for writing was to break free from his dysfunctional family.
The comparison between his plays and his childhood was the BEST part of the book.
Mother’s monolithic puritanism was the most damaging element in Tennessee’s life
In in my opinion. his mother was more damaging than the pills (when TW died they found 13 bottles of prescription drugs, Aldomet, Zyloprin, Reglan, Seconal etc) and alcohol.


10. Does the story contain a single effect or impression on me?
Of course the brilliant rise and tragic fall of Tennessee Williams is the first impression I experienced. He used sex as ‘spiritual champagne’ and Rx prescription pills for his blues. By being desired he was empty of need. (pg 88).
The second impression and one of the most important reasons to read this book is my new understanding of how a play is written, painstakingly re-written several times and masterly staged in collaboration with the director.


I was deeply impressed by the life of Tennessee Williams.
Of all the characters he created it I think
Alma in Summer and Smoke is the best representation of the playwright.
Once she casts off her parents and the rectory, the serenity she finds is not the peace of heaven but the bliss of pickups and pills. (pg 99)

What is the line in his plays that made a lasting effect of me?
Summer and Smoke:

“The prescription number is 96814” she says in the finale.
“I think of it as the telephone number of God!”