Category Archives: Books

“To Serve Them All My Days”

R.F. Delderfield

This is the story of David Powlett-Jones, a shell-shocked veteran, discharged from the army while World War I is still raging, who becomes a teacher at an English boy’s boarding school. The headmaster, the setting, and the students help him to recover, and the novel is about his career through World War II. It’s full of interesting characters, joy, and a portion of tragedy. It’s pleasant, even charming, without being sentimental.

“Fishing Bamboo”

John Gierach

I don’t think I’ve cast a fly since I was 14 (a half century ago!), but I remember how I used to pour over the Orvis catalog — before Orvis was a fashion brand — yearning for a bamboo fly rod, all of which were far beyond my limited budget. “Fishing Bamboo” is a pleasant book about bamboo rods, their use, and the people who build them, enhanced by Gierach’s anecdotes and slightly curmudgeonly personality.

“Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World”

Roger Crowley

This is a good, not-too-detailed book about the struggle between the Ottoman Empire and the Christian West between the Siege of Rhodes in 1522 and the Battle of Lepanto in 1572 as it played out in the Mediterranean. To me the story of the Siege of Malta of 1565 was the most interesting part of the book, not just because it’s a dramatic tale of victory despite overwhelming odds, but because I read it just before visiting Malta.

Ft. St. Angelo (center across the water), which played an important role in the Great Siege, as it looks today.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

Harriet Beecher Stowe

This, along with “Frankenstein, was my “book I should have read long ago” pick for a recent trip to Italy. To appreciate it you have to get around all the baggage attached to the story and to the phrase “Uncle Tom”, but I’m glad I finally read it.

I wouldn’t call Stowe a great writer. The book sentimental and full of melodrama, stereotypes, and speechifying, and she was no Twain when it comes to rendering dialect. But the characters — both good and bad — are memorable and interesting and the strong religious element is moving. It’s a powerful document about slavery, which is a part of our history that we seem afraid to explore in depth.

While there’s no room to doubt that it’s an anti-slavery novel, Stowe allows her pro-slavery characters their arguments and she shines a light on Northern hypocrisy about slavery. She shows the immorality of both “good” slave owners and harsh ones and, within the bounds of 18th century propriety, doesn’t ignore the sexual aspect of slavery.

“Fear: Trump in the White House”

Bob Woodward

This should have been titled “Fear: Trump’s White House Is Everything You Were Afraid It Would Be.” It’s an interesting, depressing read, and I’m sure Woodward’s reporting is accurate. However, it’s apparent that Woodward didn’t have enough sources to provide a very complete picture, so it’s more like looking at Trump’s White House through a keyhole than from above. It’s not nearly as good as his books on the Bush administration.

“Frankenstein”

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

There are works of art that so saturate popular culture that, when you’re about to encounter the original for the first time, you fear they will have lost their impact. I’m happy to say that, in my experience, works like Michelangelo’s “David” or Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper”, despite their appearance in everything from cartoons to cheap wall hangings to snow globes, retain their power to amaze.

I wondered, when starting “Frankenstein”, whether Boris Karloff, Abbott and Costello, and “The Munsters” had robbed it of its appeal. I needn’t hav worries: I found it a moving and human work. (And yes, I should have read it decades ago.)

“Preparing For Your Active Life After Retirement: A Guide to The Most Exciting Journey of Your Life, The One That Takes Place After Retirement”

Bob Lowry

A little over three years ago I wrote a blog entry about Bob Lowry’s book “Living A Satisfying Retirement“. Now I’ve been retired just under two years and I’ve just read another of his books. I can see where this one would help someone approaching retirement. As for me, it’s helped me to take stock and given me some things to think about.

(Note in my earlier review I said his blog, “Satisfying Retirement” was no longer being updated. Currently it is being updated and I recommend it highly, not least for the quality of the moderated comments.)

“A Close Run Thing”

David Donachie

This is the 15th and, so far latest novel in the John Pearce series. All of what I said about the series in my review of “The Devil to Pay” remains true, but there are some further things I’ve noticed. One is the variety of settings, not just geographic ones, but social ones as well. Another is the fact that Donachie keeps introducing new characters and isn’t afraid to kill off a major character. Third, the author is very skillful in juggling his several plot threads so that there’s always something the reader wants to find out and is always looking forward to the next book while at the same time he ties off certain subplots so that the reader occasionally gets the satisfaction of a story coming to an end.

This is a really great series and it’s frustrating to know that I’ll have to wait for more to be published now that I’ve caught up with it.

“Some Vernacular Railroad Photographs”

Jeffrey Brouws

After a good introductory essay on collecting, railroads, and photography, Brouws presents vernacular photos of trains, railroaders, and the railroad landscape. The black and white photos, which range from the early 20th century to the early 1960s, were taken by raifans, railroad employees, and that most prolific of artists, “anonymous”. There’s a lot of variety in the collection, and a lot of quality.