Tuesday, March 24, 2015


I ran across these Facebook posts from several years ago.

 "Lord, it is night. The night is for stillness. Let us be still in the presence of God. It is night after a long day. What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done. Let it be. The night is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you. The night is quiet. Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and all who have no peace. The night heralds the dawn. Let us look expectantly to a new day, new jobs, new possibilities. In your name we pray, Amen." Heard at Evensong last night at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena.

Then part of a thanksgiving from the same church service:

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.
We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.
We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Jesus: A Life by A.N. Wilson (1992)

Jesus: A LifeJesus: A Life by A.N. Wilson

I'm much too

Dumb as an ox
Thick headed
Thick as two short planks

For this book.


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Friday, March 13, 2015

Sunday Nights at Seven: The Jack Benny Story by Jack Benny and his daughter Joan (1990)

I've been listening to (and enjoying immensely) some of Jack Benny's radio programs from the 1930s and '40s on Spotify.  The entire show is really genius. I was surprised at how some of the tropes and concepts I considered modern are found in this radio show from the golden age.  It's a show about a show (like 30Rock); the characters break the third wall all the time (House of Cards); they break characters constantly and make each other laugh (Carol Burnett).  There are running gags and adlibs that are hilarious, catchphrases, actors playing versions of themselves.

So that's the show; this is supposed to be about the book.  It was good.  Not great, but good.  Plenty of stories of old Hollywood, although there could have been more.  This kind of biography, though, isn't going to have all that much scandalous tales.

I read recently that the Burns (George and Gracie) adored Jack Benny and hated his wife.  That's an example of something NOT found in this book.   I wanted a book like the Bob Hope biography that I read recently, that included Bob's halo and warts.  That's not this book.

Sunday Nights at SevenSunday Nights at Seven by Jack Benny
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jack Benny was a comedic genius, and if you haven't listened to his radio program, find a way to do so immediately. So much modern comedy owes a huge debt to Jack Benny.  That said, this book was kind of a snore.  I wanted a book like Hope: Entertainer of the Century, in which Zoglin both showed Bob Hope's halo and his warts in one big, juicy biography. Jack Benny certainly deserves the same treatment - I think his comedy has far more reach and is far more modern than Hope's; this book isn't going to give you any warts though, and doesn't do much to pick apart what made Jack Benny tick.  It's an interesting book, but just that.

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The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie (1929)

Not one of Agatha Christie's best efforts - the true masterpieces of detective fiction are yet to come.  This features the same characters as (the abysmal) Secret of Chimneys, but I liked this one slightly better than that stinker.   Christie's "thrillers" are anything but, although I suppose in 1929 they were high adventure.  Not so much anymore. It had a very good ending, which made up for some of the stupidity along the way.   Lady Eileen "Bundle" Brent is an interesting character though, what someone on Wikipedia described as an "it girl" and very much a "flapper."  I heartily wish she was in a better book.  She almost gives Lady Georgie from Rhys Bowen's Royal Spyness series a run for her (definitely lack of, ha ha) money. Superintendent Battle, on the other hand, is pretty wooden.  I don't think I'd ever read this particularly Christie before; I'm sure I will never read it again.  Although I love the cover. 

Comme il faut.  "The young lady, sir, is most undoubtedly strictly comme il faut, if I may use the expression."  I don't know whether Stevens, Jimmy's valet? butler? is allowed to use the expression or not, but he did anyway.  According American Heritage Dictionary online, it means she's a proper young lady.  I bet the subtext is that she's of Jimmy's class.

Hispano.  "At half-past eight Bundle had breakfasted and was on her way to Chimneys in the Hispano."  A Spanish made luxury car of 1920s. Although Bundle's specific model isn't named, the Hispano-Suiza may have looked like this 1930 model:

colleté.  "Bundle was staring with a good deal of interest, for it was the back of a singularly beautiful woman very much décolleté."
I always though though of décolleté as referring to the plunging neckline of the front of woman's dress, but in this case, to enhance the plot, Christie is referring to back of a woman's dress. Bundle, hidden and spying, sees this mystery woman's back only, and because she had a backless gown on, Bundle can see a clue:  "a tiny black mole just below the right shoulder blade that enhanced the whiteness of the skin."

Empressement.  "George Lomax came forward to welcome her with considerable empressement."  What is it with Agatha Christie and the constant French phrases?  Webster's says this means "warmth or cordiality."  The French original meaning apparently had some sense of "hurry" or "press," which to me implies that George Lomax, who wants to marry Bundle, is perhaps coming on too strong in his social encounter with her.

"Bundle felt her breath taken away.  She had a nightmare version of England with innumerable Cootes in innumerable counterparts of Chimneys - all, be it understood, with an entirely new system of plumbing installed."  Dame Christie, your slip is showing.  If we understand Christie's slip to be her very much cemented sense of class, at least in these early books (I imagine this remains true the whole way through).  Sir Oswald Coote, the selfmade millionaire, nouveau riche to his middle class core, has just said that Bundle's beloved estate Chimneys needs bringing "up to date."   The Cootes of the world apparently won the Bundle battle:  they married into the Royal Family.  Even last week, Prince Charles was complaining through anonymous channels about the ticky tacky Middleton family and how they won't let him see his grandson.  

Bally.  "I was still lying on that bally sofa," said Bill."  "Bally" is a euphemism for the the British swear word "bloody."  A Broadway show I've seen (and like) is Me and My Girl, and on the cast album, one of the characters says "Well, you've bally gone and broken by bally heart.  I hope your satisfied."  Bill instantly became that character after saying this.

The many covers of The Seven Dials Mystery over the years have been quite interesting to say the least.  Here are a few:

This is the first American edition.  It's very modern art, I think.  And kind of scary looking.  

This if from a 1967 paperback.  

Italian paperback from 1981.  Her dress looks very Dynasty and not very 1920s.  I love how they all have clocks for their heads.  Like something out of A Wrinkle in Time or The Phantom Tollbooth.

boekkaft1990s Dutch paperback.  Very cutesy, huh?  Like a children's book.

The Seven Dials MysteryThe Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Agatha Christie's thrillers are anything but, although obviously in 1929 this was a best seller.  Tastes change.  Lady Eileen Bundle Brent is a great character, stuck in a humdrum book (although I have to admit, the end was surprisingly great).  She almost gives Rhys Bowen's Lady Georgie from Her Royal Spyness a run for her money (if Lady Georgie actually had any money, that is).  Unless you are a glutton for punishment - and clearly I am, when it comes to Agatha Christie, skip this one and move on to Marple.

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"The Seven Dials Mystery First Edition Cover 1929" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Seven_Dials_Mystery_First_Edition_Cover_1929.jpg#/media/File:The_Seven_Dials_Mystery_First_Edition_Cover_1929.jpg

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The King's Grey Mare by Rosemary Hawley Jarman (1973)

Elegantly written, very lyrical and old fashioned.  Anyone with a passing interesting in the Wars of the Roses is familiar with the story, the romance of Queen Elizabeth and King Edward IV.  It's interesting that Jarman wrote this book many years before Phillipa Gregory's more modern series, but seems to have flushed out some ideas that Gregory later "borrows" -- the witchery of the Woodvilles, for example - although Gregory definitely flushes them out into some more meaty stuff.  What becomes problematic about The King's Grey Mare is Jarman's characters, particularly that of Elizabeth Woodville, zig and zag all over the place.  They don't stay still long enough to develop, and while people may really be that way, in a novel you want characters to act in ways that make sense and further the plot.  Jarman's Woodville is a romantic heroine at one point who turns into this monstrous bitch, and I couldn't figure out when or why.

The King's Grey MareThe King's Grey Mare by Rosemary Hawley Jarman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jarman's book about Elizabeth Woodville came long before The White Queen, but they cover almost exactly the same ground.  Jarman is a more lyrical and old fashioned writer; Gregory flushes out some of Jarman's ideas in a more meatier and interesting way (the witchery of the Woodvilles, for example, is more deftly written by Gregory than Jarman).  This isn't a bad book by any means; if you like the Wars of the Roses, then you'll (mostly) enjoy Jarman's book.  My only beef was the zig and zag  of the characters, particularly that of Elizabeth Woodville herself.  It's like Jarman couldn't decide if Elizabeth was a romantic heroine or a monstrous bitch, and tried to make her into both.  She could have succeeded at that with some transition, but that lack of transition makes Elizabeth into a bizarre and schizo character and not completely believable.  If you want to only read one novel about Elizabeth Woodville, stick to Gregory.  But if you like your Wars of the Roses almost ornate and poetic, give Jarman a try.

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Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution by Peter Ackroyd (2014)

Factoid:  from what I can gather, Peter Ackroyd is gay.

Oliver Cromwell Speech - Dissolution of the Long Parliament
Dissolution of the Long Parliament by Oliver Cromwell given to the House of Commons, 20 April 1653
It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter'd your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?
Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil'd this sacred place, and turn'd the Lord's temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.

In the name of God, go!

It's interesting how all revolutions at some basic level are about money.  British Civil War:  taxes (and poor government).  American:  taxes.  French:  aristocracy (division of wealth).  Russian:  aristocracy.


I didn't enjoy this one quite as well as the other two I read in this series of English history.  For one thing, I'm not a huge fan of this time period.  Another, the time periods Ackroyd was writing about were more people driven, and thus more personal; the Civil War and Glorious Revolution were at some level more politically driven, and the stories associated with them aren't quite as interesting.  Although, perhaps they should be and Ackroyd can be faulted for this, I don't know.  All I know is that it took a helluva lot longer to read this book than the previous ones, and I kept wanting to put it down.  

There were some interesting asides.  Men cried very easily back then apparently; the entire House of Commons was crying at one point.  Another guy was quoted as saying "The Devil shits Dutchmen" which I thought was a humorous turn of phrase, one that I'd love to use sometime in the future.  The Devil shits.... Bros.  Kardashians.  Bad drivers.  People who cut in line.  Loud people in restaurants.  Babies on plains.  Bitchy flight attendants.  People with too much plastic surgery.  Mean Christians.  Tea Party republicans who hate gay people.  The list can go on and on...

Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution (The History of England, #3)Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution by Peter Ackroyd
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't like reading about this time period as much as I do the Middle Ages or the Tudors, so I didn't like this book quite as much as Foundation or Tudors.  It didn't have the same regular injections of interesting tidbits either.  It was a good book, but heavier, and not as fun.

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The Only Way to Cross by John Maxtone-Graham (1972, 1983)

The Only Way to Cross: The Golden Era of the Great Atlantic Liners - From the Mauretania to the France and the Queen Elizabeth 2The Only Way to Cross: The Golden Era of the Great Atlantic Liners - From the Mauretania to the France and the Queen Elizabeth 2 by John Maxtone-Graham
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was excited to read this book, but overall disappointed.  It felt like a self published book almost, sort of like a book of town history or genealogy, with an insider's perspective that was hard to understand.  The narrative flow was weird too; there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason other than a loose chronology.  It's clear Maxtone-Graham (has a great name) loves sea travel and writes knowledgeably and occasionally interestingly about it - but it's that occasionally that's the operative word here.  

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