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Archive for the ‘Bibliophile’ Category

Gatehouse moonlit

When you read his work, there is always some poetry and magic in his writing. And then you come across a passage that hits you in the heart and the head at the same time, evoking feelings and images as none other can.

From Banshee (1984)-

”She had a face of snow, cut from that same white cool marble that makes the finest Irish women; a long swan neck, a generous if quivering mouth, and eyes a soft and luminous green. So beautiful were those eyes and her profile against the blown tree branches, that something in me turned, agonized, and died. I felt that killing wrench men feel when beauty passes and will not pass again. You want to cry out: Stay, I love you. But you do not speak. And the summer walks away in her flesh, never to return”

“I tried to look through her eyes and thought: my God, has it always been this way, forever some man in that house, forty, eighty, a hundred years ago! Not the same man, no, but all dark twins, and this girl lost on the road, with snow in her arms for love, and frost in her heart for comfort, and nothing to do but whisper and croon and mourn and sob until the sound of her weeping stilled at sunrise but to start again with the rising of the moon.”

From The Toynbee Convector (1988)-

“Stiles touched another button and the machine lit up like a cavern of spider webs. It breathed in years and whispered forth remembrance. Ghosts were in its crystal veins. A great god spider had woven its tapestries in a single night. It was haunted and it was alive. Unseen tides came and went in its machinery. Suns burned and moons hid their seasons in it. Here, an autumn blew away in tatters; there, winters arrived in snows that drifted in spring blossoms to fall on summer fields.”

One of these stories shows how a lie can be salvation itself.

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Recently I found a copy of The Righteous by Martin Gilbert, who among other things is Winston Churchill’s official biographer and a world respected authority on Jewish history. This book is a collection of stories about those gentiles who aided the victims of the Holocaust, often risking their lives and that of their families to save others. The book is fascinating, uplifting, horrible, and sad, sometimes at the same time. One thing it does do is to show how great and humane ordinary people can be. Another thing it does is to show bravery, humour, and sheer chutzpah. The term used for such people is Righteous among the nations, and include ordinary citizens, religious figures, and even some German camp guards and S.S. members

While I was familiar with people such as Oskar Schindler and his List, Ambassador Wallenberg,  and Stanislaw Zelent, the Angel of Majdanek, I found some other stories that I had either forgotten or never read.

Rescue of the Danish Jews

There’s an apocryphal story that the Nazis ordered Danish Jews to wear yellow stars. King Christian, in response, started wearing one, followed by all the Danes. While this story is a myth (the Nazis didn’t dare to give the order), it is representative of how the Danish people felt. When the Danish people were warned about imminent deportations of the Jews, most were hidden away fairly quickly, and some were smuggled across to Sweden in small vessels and rowboats. Eventually this became so organised that about 8000 Jews were evacuated. The remaining 450 were captured and sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Denmark somehow persuaded Germany to accept food and medicines for the prisoners, and furthermore to keep them out of the extermination camps in Poland. Both of these accomplishments are unique, at least to my knowledge. While about 50 people died in the camps (mostly the elderly), the rest were able to return home after the war.

They saved about 99% of their Jewish citizens, and lost fewer people than any other country in Occupied Europe.

Italy versus Germany

From previous reading I had known that a fair number of deaths had occurred in Italy. I also thought that, given the alliance between Italy and the Third Reich, as well as the Fascist government, that the Italians were enthusiastic collaborators in the extermination. Boy, was I wrong!

As Germany’s major Axis ally, Italy occupied part of France, Yugoslavia, and Greece. Before the war Italy was fairly anti-Semitic and well integrated into Italian society. Under pressure from Germany, in 1938 some anti-Jewish legislation  was enacted, including relocating foreign Jews into internment camps. However, the camps included such amenities as schools, cultural activities, and social event; definitely not modeled on the Nazi model.

When Mussolini joined the War in 1940, there was increasing pressure on them to deport Jews from both Italy proper and the occupied territories to the Nazi concentration camps. Italians of all ranks either resisted or disobeyed all such efforts, refusing to give up Italian, French, Yugoslav, or Greek Jews to German authority. Even direct pressure on  the Duce was ignored. So until Mussolini fell in 1943, no Jewish person under their authority was sent to a camp, and lived fairly save lives. As well, refugees started to trickle into Italy from nearby regions in Southern Europe.

In late 1943, German forces occupied north and central Italy, where the majority of Jewish citizens and refugees were trapped by Nazi forces. Then they started the roundups, but citizens, government workers, resistance fighters, the Vatican and the Italian churches all resisted. By the end of the war, the Nazi’s had killed about 7600 people, but more than 40,000 were saved. Italy managed to save about 83% of its people.

The Vatican has been criticised  for its silence before and during the war, but Gilbert’s books was somewhat more charitable.  He mentions the Christmas message of 1942, which, while not specifically naming the Jews, was clear enough to incense the Nazis. When German forces tried to gather up the 5000 Jews in Rome,  “the Vatican clergy opened the sanctuaries of the Vatican City to all ‘non-Aryans’ in need of refuge”. False identification papers were handed out, and hundreds of children hid under St. Peter’s. They managed to hide 80% of the people targeted. The Vatican also supported, albeit somewhat erratically at times, resistance and assistance during much of the war, and the papacy and clergy contributed to saving hundreds of thousands of lives. The papacy also protested many of the Nazi abuses and behaviour before the war. Finally, the Vatican, via John Paul II, apologised for being too silent and ambiguous in its message during World War II.

Greek Chutzpah

There were two stories here that would make me proud to be a Greek.

First, on the island of Zanythos, Mayor Carrier was asked to give a list of Jews currently living there.  Bishop Chrysostomos returned with a list of two names; his and the mayor’s. Meanwhile the 275 Jews hid among their neighbors, and all the Jews survived.

Second,  Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens frequently clashed with the Quisling government and the Nazi occupiers. At one point he wrote an open letter protesting the deportation of Greek Jews to concentration camps. It was signed by many important citizens, and is considered unique in its courage, dignity, and respect for common humanity.  It also royally ticked off the Nazis, and is well worth reading.

SS Police Leader Stroop (in charge if the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto) was enraged by the letter and threatened the Archbishop with a firing squad. Damaskinos’ response was, “Greek religious leaders are not shot, they are hanged. I request that you respect this custom.” Stroop backed down.

He also did an amazing amount to help and protect the Jews, including inciting the Greek Orthodox church to aid and abet the Jews, signing thousands of birth certificates for the Jews, allowing them to be hidden in monasteries and convents, and working with Rabbis, local police, and the Greek Resistance to help the Jews.

Conclusion

Given that the Holocaust was one of the most inhumane acts in history, with 6 million dead Jews and 5-6 million others exterminated, Gilbert’s book about people like the above make you proud to be human.  While there are new holocausts occurring in the world, there are also people out there like the Danes, the Italians, and Demoskines.  Rwanda has produced its share of horror, but it also reminds us of decent people like Romeo_Dallaire, the hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, and BBC reporter Mark Doyle. As Rwanda was less deadly than the Shoah, may Darfur be less deadly than Rwanda, and may people start getting involved.

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 Gone to the Dogs recently showed a meme on literature that she received from Mumbling Monkey. I thought it was kind of cool, and tried it on my own. Then I thought of a small variation. Some of my best friends like fantasy and science fiction, and I’m also somewhat fond of it. This list is from the Science Fiction Books Club.

Bold the ones you’ve read, strike-out the ones you hated, italicize those you started but never finished and put asterisks beside the ones you loved (the more asterisks, the more you liked it).

The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, 1953-2002

  1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien*****
  2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov*****
  3. Dune, Frank Herbert*****
  4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein****
  5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin****
  6. Neuromancer, William Gibson*****
  7. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke*****
  8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick****
  9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley***
  10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury****
  11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe**
  12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.*****
  13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov****
  14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
  15. Cities in Flight, James Blish****
  16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
  17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison****
  18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison*****
  19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester***
  20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
  21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
  22. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card*****
  23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
  24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman*****
  25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl***
  26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling**
  27. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams*****
  28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
  29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice*
  30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin**
  31. Little, Big, John Crowley
  32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny***
  33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick****
  34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement*
  35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon**
  36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
  37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute**
  38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke****
  39. Ringworld, Larry Niven*****
  40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys*
  41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien****
  42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut*****
  43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
  44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner**
  45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester*
  46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein*****
  47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock*
  48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
  49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
  50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer****

I’ve read 42 of the above, and of the remaining 8 there are 3 waiting on my shelves. From the list it seems my interests and likes are fairly broadly ranging, and I like hard SF and Fantasy about equally well.

Among those I like, one highly under-rated book is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. He only wrote a couple of books in his life, and this one has been in continuous publication for about 50 years. I first read it when I was 14. It is about the rebuilding of civilization from a nuclear holocaust, and discusses among other things the nature of humanity and its ability to learn from past mistakes. Parts of it are searing, and its take on how people react morally feels extremely real and insightful.  Finally, I guarantee you will be questioning some of your own views and beliefs before it is over.

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I was just eating lunch and browsing the internet, and came upon an interesting blog entry by Charles Stross, a British Horror/Science Fiction/Fantasy/Smorgasbord writer. This article discusses some interesting points of view about certain books. For instance,

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare:

Son of Sammy wrote: “i just read this book. everybody like always talks about how great it is and everything. but i don’t think so. like, it’s been done before, right?? soooo cliched. omg.”

Some commenters hoped that this was a parody. However, here is another one that they wanted to disniss but couldn’t

L. Wright “Musett
e Wright” wrote (apropos Romeo and Juliet):

Not that I don’t like Shakespeare’s works, but his tragedies are terrible, especially this one. I can’t understand the language real well, so I have to grab one with the contemporary language so that it’ll be easier to understand. I just can’t understand this love tragedy at all! Here are some things that confuse me:

*How did this feud really begin?
*Why can’t this story end in happily ever after?
*Why does Lady Capulet have to be so stuck up on everybody?
*Why couldn’t Shakespeare have written in a language we could all understand?
*Why does everybody have to jump to conclusions?

I simply can’t understand why people love this play so much. It’s ridiculous! If you want a true love story, try reading “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. This one absolutely SUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The second and fourth questions were the most surrealistic for me. The answer to the second is painfully obvious, and the answer to the fourth is just as obvious. He did write so that people could understand him, in plain yet beautiful phrases.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck:

Jef4Jesus wrote: “So, I’m only on page 478 of 619, but I’ve been disgusted at the amount of profanity. So far I’ve found more than 500 uses of profanity! On average every page (with relatively big writing, even) has more than one swear. Yikes! I’m never going to read Grapes of Wrath again, and won’t be recommending it to anyone. If you don’t like profanity, be careful.”

M. Landis wrote: “This book was 600 pages written purly about a bunch of hicks from Oklahoma starving. Thanks, but no thanks.”

The remarks by Landis were condescending, elitist, and uncaring, and all within a single sentence. He gets high marks for efficiency at denigrating people who were almost destroyed by forces outside their control.

The first sentence of the following review really caught my attention.

Do not, if you value your sanity, try this experiment on The Bible. This is one of the better ones:

I feel that this book started out well but lacked something of an ending. The writing styles change intermittedly and seem to lack something of a finesse, blatantly stating things that cannot be taken literally or figuratively well enough to purvey a superior understanding of the text. I found it about as entertaining as flipping through a T.V. guide but not owning a T.V. seeing all the shows that you could be watching explained in a summerized detail that never quite lets you know what it’s really all about. A true literary flop.

If the book had the predicted ending, I doubt he have been able to make that comment. On the second point, he should give a little latitude to the fact that maintaininhis is assuming that the critic reads and understandg a consistent style over thousands of years and a number of translations by the Jews, then the Greeks, then the Romans, then Middle English, and finally Modern English. This is assuming that the critic reads and understands Modern English. Also, while there was obviously a bit of ghostwriting going on, the ghostwriter had to work through a lot of people, some eloquent, and some less so.

Anyway, the comments generated were as funny and interesting as the original entry.

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Yesterday I bought a copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury. It has been a while since I read anything by him, but some of my favourites include Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, and of course The Martian Chronicles. His stories are always well plotted, his understanding of, and empathy with, his characters are exemplary, and his imagination is spectacular. I don’t know the exact word to describe how he structures his stories; there are elements of fables, legends, and allegories in his stories.

But the thing that is really special is how he can craft a sentence to produce an image in your head, and how he can evoke moods and feelings with one of the most deft touches in this or any time. Here are a few random images.

“Sometimes you see a kite so high, so wise it almost knows the wind. It travels, then chooses to land in one spot and no other, and no matter how you yank, run this way or that,it will simply break its cord, seek its resting place and bring you, blood-mouthed, running.”

“Yet, this train’s whistle!

The wails of a lifetime were gathered in it from other nights in other slumbering years; the howl of moon-dreamed dogs, the seep of river-cold winds though January porch screens which stopped the blood, a thousand fire sirens weeping, or worse! the outgone shreds of breath, the protests of a billion people dead or dying, not wanting to be dead, their groans, their sighs, burst over the earth!”

This describes circus tents in the wind. “At last there was the clear-water sound of vast flags blowing.

Muffled away in the prairie lands, the chuffing of an engine, the slow-following dragon-glide of a train.

This describes a calliope on a train. “Going away, away, the calliope pipes shimmered with star explosions, but no one sat at the high keyboard. The wind, sluicing ice-water air in the pipes, made the music.”

Finally, two boys running. ” Along the street below fled two shadows, two boys above them matching stride for stride. They softly printed the night air with treads.”

Ostensibly what Bradbury writes is prose, but I would argue that his imagery is clearly more poetry than prose. I’m enjoying the new book, and will let you know how I liked it.

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This is my second night shift. I wish you were here and I wasn’t! 🙂

I just took a break from work and glanced at today’s quotes. I thought they were kind of cute, so here goes.

A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.
Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)

In today’s world, given current bandwidth and a single good path of transmission, a lie can travel 225 times around the Earth while the truth is tying it’s shoelaces, assuming this takes about 30 seconds. You then multiply by the number of paths that the lie might simultaneously pass through, which would give you thousands and thousands of times around the Earth.

Having finished this foolish calculation, the point is that Sam was right yet again. The Internet lets GIGO multiply like a virus.

A boy can learn a lot from a dog: obedience, loyalty, and the importance of turning around three times before lying down.
Robert Benchley (1889 – 1945)

What really appeals to me about this one is a family that I know. They are really good dog owners, and have a beautiful young daughter who seems intelligent and witty. I should find out from them how many times she turns around before going to sleep.

My best friend’s daughters turn around at least three times most nights. They go upstairs to bed, come down, get driven back up, sometimes come down again, etc. Maybe they should have the living room on the upper floor and the children’s bedrooms on the lower floor, so that the kids have to come upstairs after getting back out of bed; it may discourage them slightly. Having said this, they are great kids, being bright, creative, and not overly concerned with neatness. In other words, children after my own heart.

Facts are stupid things.
Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004)

This makes me think of the good old days, when a president may have been a Republican and a bit slow, but at least he meant well. Today the level of intelligence has not risen, but the level of acrimony and defensiveness has mushroomed out of control.

Ronald had a point though. Facts are like statistics, and you need to sift and interpret them the same as in stats. It brings to mind the famous quote of Benjamin Disraeli.

Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.
Kurt Vonnegut (1922 – )

I like this one on many levels, and I’m sure I’m missing a few more nuances.

P.S. I added one quote after I wrote the title.  If you like the title could be changed to 3 and a third at three a.m., posited on the theory that Reagan’s quote is only one third of a pithy saying. This would also be above Ronald’s batting average for insightful thoughts. 😉

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“Well behaved women rarely make history” –Laurel T. Ulrich.


“Traditions are group efforts to keep the unexpected from happening.”-B. Tober

Summer Fashion?

“When I am abroad, I always make it a rule never to criticize or attack the government of my own country. I make up for lost time when I come home.” –Sir Winston Churchill

Churchill

Churchill walking in Halifax.

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