Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Nature’s Oddballs by Lisbeth Zappler

A book I got a long time ago, written for a juvenile reader, about a wide variety of animals that defy the standards and norms of taxonomy. Interesting at times, mostly because it reinforces the point that so much that we think of as “Nature’s Laws” are really just descriptions of observable phenomena, and that there are always those things that live on the edges of our conceptual constructs that are best ignored because they threaten to topple our entire house of cards. Birds fly—except for the ostrich. Mammals have live births—except for the platypus. F=ma—except when speeds approach the speed of light. It’s all part of the same condition. There is less order in the universe than we would like to think. A lot of the order that seems to be there is only so apparent because we have put it there.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Embattled Shrine: Jamestown in the Civil War by David F. Riggs

Not sure how this one wound up on my shelf, probably one of the monthly selections from the History Book Club before I started to care what they were sending me, or when I was buying everything and anything they had on the Civil War. It is the definitive study on this subject, but that makes it neither interesting nor important. Jamestown, the site of the first permanent English settlement in America, is an island in the James River that the Confederates used as part of their defense up to and during the 1862 peninsula campaign, and which the Federals took over and used as a communications link for the rest of the war. That’s it.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

The Warden by Anthony Trollope

This book belonged to my mother. On the first page someone, I’m assuming she, has written her name and “June, 1955.” That’s when she was fifteen years old. I wonder if she ever read this book and if she would remember it. Maybe I’ll show it to her someday and see what her reaction is. The book itself is OK, the only Trollope I have read, who was evidently a prolific and popular writer of the 19th century. It’s a small story about an honorable man accused of dishonorable things and how he and others react to the situation. I won’t read it again, not will I read any more Trollope. At least not until I read everything else I want to read.

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

A keeper. As I explained again to my wife tonight when she nagged me about all my damn books, I recently rearranged them all so that the only ones I am displaying are the ones I would consider reading again some day. This one will clearly go on that shelf. The rest are being packed away in boxes, with the idea of keeping them if at all possible, but sorted for possible disposal if it comes to that. The dust jacket said the author was wounded five times in World War I, and I can believe it after reading this grim account of life and death on those front lines. One of many citable paragraphs:

We see men living with their skulls blown open; we see soldiers run with their two feet cut off, they stagger on their splintered stumps into the next shell-hole; a lance corporal crawls a mile and a half on his hands dragging his smashed knee after him; another goes to the dressing station and over his clasped hands bulge his intestines; we see men without mouths, without jaws, without faces; we find one man who had held the artery of his arm in his teeth for two hours in order not to bleed to death. The sun goes down, night comes, the shells whine, life is at an end.

The image of the man running on footless stumps will stay with me for some time, probably because I know it’s true, that it is something Remarque actually saw in the war. How men struggle to survive when their world has been shattered, when their own body, the very essence of their being, has been maimed and mangled by forces they have no ability or hope to control is endlessly fascinating to me and something I would like to explore more in my own fiction.