Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Modest Proposal: My 2015 Summer Reading List, Part I

A Modest Proposal:  a partial display of my summer reading 

Here is a short description of why I chose these 22 + books of which only 11 are briefly discussed.  

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (not shown) This is great read told by eight-year old Scout from Maycomb Alabama. She is the daughter of Atticus Finch, a small town lawyer who is unsuccessful at defending a black man who is falsely accused of raping a white woman.

2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This is masterpiece of World War II 'concise' prose which won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Read my review for more details.

3. Station Eleven, a novel by Emily St. John Mandel. This is riveting fantastic story that begins with a production of Shakespeare's King Lear in which the lead actor falls victim to heart failure on stage. This event sets the stage for a futuristic scenario in which mankind is 99.9% destroyed by a Russian flu. The play is redeemed by a roving band of Shakespearean actors and symphony musicians managing to survive by their wits, acting and instruments.  

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This 1925 classic was recently turned into a big, big bucks  Hollywood production (which I did not see). I choose to imbibe the life of the ultra rich through the timeless prose of a master writer.

5. Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader  by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. This book is on my shelf because of a  recent Fast Company Magazine review entitled The Steve Jobs You Didn't Know: Kind, Patient and Human. So let's learn about the other side of Steve that contrasts with the more limited egotistical, brash and greedy character presented in Walter Isaacson's biography.

6. Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. A recent  Wall Street Journal Saturday essay  by the author spurred my interest in reading her thesis. She is now a fellow at the Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. (There are 875 Comments about the article)
     The subtitle of the WSJ article reads:  "To defeat the extremists for good, Muslims must reject those aspects of their tradition that prompt some believers to resort to oppression and holy war."

7 Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership by Susan Butler. It is 1943 and World War II is winding down after huge losses of human life by the Russians. Stalin is eager to have the Allies open up the Second Front (the D-Day Invasion) and Roosevelt is keen on getting Stalin, especially, and Churchill to agree on a world peace keeping force open to both small and large nations.
     Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill and their aides meet in Tehran in December, each with his game plan on the table. FDR uses his enormous diplomatic skills, charm and superior bargaining position to overcome Stalin's mistrust and paranoia and Churchill's reluctance to forge the framework for a lasting peace both at Tehran and Yalta in February 1945, just two months before FDR's death.
   This book is  highly recommenced  not only for its engrossing drama, but its beautifully and intricately developed narrative.

8. Strangers in the Bronx: DiMaggio, Mantle and the Changing of the Yankee Guard by Andrew O'Toole  The year is 1951 and the legendary  Yankee Clipper Joe D's last season. On the scene arrives the 19 year old boy wonder slugger, fleet footed Micky Mantle from  Commerce, Oklahoma. The story is enlivened by the many quoted interviews with noted  sports journalists of the day. There are great portraits of Yankee owners Dan Topping, George Weiss as well as the Ole Professor Casey Stengel who led the Bronx Bombers to the second straight World Series win.

9. The Innovators:  How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson. The author, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute introduces us to Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's daughter who was an early computer programmer in the 1840's. He then continues the digital revolution with personality portraits of Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing (subject of the cinematic success The Imitation Game), J.C.R Licklider, Doug Engelbert, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Tom Berners-Lee and Larry Page.
   This is a must read for anyone wishing to track what the superhighway of information hath wrought.

10. The Remarkable Education of John Quincy Adams by Phyllis Lee Levin. My interest in this biography was sparked by  the 'remarkable' biography of JQA's father President John Adams by David Mcullough (2001) and a subsequent tour of The Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Most recently, I published a review of another JQA biography, John Quincy Adams, American Visionary, (click here)  by Fred Kaplan--discussed in a New Yorker Magazine article

   My passion for unearthing the amazing contributions of this family to the growth of our republic from its earliest times is endless. John's son John Quincy was "The Greatest Traveler of His Age."
At age 14,  JQA accompanied the Minister to Russia, Francis Dana who sought Catherine the Great's aid for the American cause. He later became this country's minister to the Netherlands, Prussia, Russia and Great Britain.

 ....and now a 'breath of fresh' air as I digress to discuss some poetry books. My reader may recall that I celebrated National Poetry Month (April) quoting T.S Eliot, William Wordsworth, and Haiku and later William Butler Yeats (click here), as we, in the East Coast were emerging from one of the most brutal winters.  (click here for my postings

11. From the New World: Poems 1976-2014 by Jorie Graham. Her honors include winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the 2012 Forward prize. one of the UK's "most prestigious poetry accolade."  The Poetry Foundation has called her "perhaps the most celebrated poet of the American post-war generation," She teaches English at Harvard where in 1998,she was appointed Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, a chair that dates back to John Quincy Adams, who was appointed as its first recipient in 1805 before his presidency.

  The best introduction to her poems is to hear her public recitals. It is best to hear the rhythms and pauses and hold the images in your mind, however brief. (click here to listen)

Tune in to Summer Reading List, Part II.


Friday, July 24, 2015

E.L. Doctorow passes: One of my favorite authors (1931-2015)

He had the marvelous facility of transporting me back in time to the Bronx of my youth, the East Tremont Avenue of the 1940's with full rounded characters that roamed, breathed and possessed the streets of my youth.

 E.L. Doctorow (1931-2014)
Courtesy of Wikipedia

He will be remembered for his many novels including Ragtime (1975), Billy Bathgate (1989) and World's Fair (1985). 

I recently read World's Fair and here is my review.(click Here)

Kudos to Random House which published a full page notice in the New York Times, Thursday, July 23, 2015. After referring to him as BELOVED AUTHOR AND FRIEND, the ad goes on to quote George Saunders' accolade, from the citation for the 2012 PEN/SaulBellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction:

"We salute him, and we thank him
for his courage, his playfulness,
his fire; for reminding us with 
every book that language is 
infinite, and essential. What 
an inspiration and an astonishment
to see how much beauty can be
 made by one amazing artist." 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Rediscovering Jazz Pianist Red Garland at the Keystone Korner: San Francisco 1978

Red Garland (1923-1984) at Keystone Korner Jazz Club
San Francisco, California, May 1978
Photo Brian McMillen, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Kudos to Todd Barkin, who ran the the Keystone Korner in North Beach from 1972 until 1983 and Ze'ev Feldman.

They  produced and recently released the Elemental Label 2- CD album featuring performances of Red Garland accompanied by bass virtuoso Leroy Vinegar and legendary drummer "Philly" Joe Jones (Red played with the latter in the 1950's with the Miles Davis Quintet).

Not only have these 16 pieces never been released before, but this is the first and last time the trio played together. The group played the Korner from December 6-10, 1977. 

Love for Sale (Cole Porter), On Green Dolphin Street (B. Kaper-N.Washington) , Straight No Chaser (Thelonius Monk), Bag's Groove (Milt Jackson and Autumn Leaves (Prevert-Mercer-Kosman) are among the classics featured on the album. 

The accompanying liner notes booklet features photographs and accolades to Red by Nat Hentoff, Ze'ev Feldman, Benny Green, interviews with record producer, photographer and label executive Don Schlitten, Kenny Washington and Ira Gittler.