Friday, April 27, 2012

The Gardens of Democracy

Due to the propaganda of the media, left and right, Americans are convinced that the "job creators" are the rich, the 1%, and that the more money they make, the more jobs they create.

That this is bullshit is one of the main topics of  The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer.  This is a book I'd like everyone to read, although it likely will have no effect at all on the Ayn Rand psychopaths.

America achieved a great middle class because of its many consumers, not because of its few very rich.  Demand comes before supply, and this works as a loop.  Take away the money consumers have to spend and there is no longer any demand.  The rich would be wise to help the middle class instead of trying to squash it.  We'll all be better off when we're all better off.

The authors were on the Charlie Rose show this past week, talking about their great new book incorporating the best ideas of Fordism.  Don't miss it.

Michael Lind also advances aspects of Fordism in his new book, Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States:

"When too much of the wealth of a nation or the world is channeled to too few people, industries are starved of the mass demand they need to keep running or to expand. . .'

"The series of asset bubbles the world economy has experienced in recent years--in housing, in stocks, and in commodities such as gold and energy--is a telltale sign that too much money is going to the rich, who use it to gamble on assets, rather than the middle class and the poor, who would have spent the money on goods and services generated in the productive economy."
Andrea Wulf

Liu and Nick Hanauer's metaphor of the economy as a garden which needs to be tended comes again to mind when reading Andrea Wulf's Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation.  This is all substantial reading and recommended.

I look out and see that the field of yellow buttercups down the road has just been plowed to await the planting of this year's corn crop.  It's a lovely time of year, a hopeful time of year.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


First, the Ulysses contract.  Yeah, I know, his name is Odysseus in the original Greek version of The Odyssey, and it was Circe who put Odysseus up to having wax put in the ears of his crew, while he was strapped to the mast, so he could hear the sirens' song without harming himself or wrecking the ship.  The Romans called him Ulysses.

And the contract made between the present self and the future self generally became known as the Ulysses contract.  We deal with Ulysses contracts all the time without naming them as such.  Payroll deductions, Christmas saving clubs, many diets and budgets in general--all Ulysses contracts.

James McManus, about to go to Las Vegas and interview lap dancers at the Cheetahs Club, certainly should have foreseen the temptations that awaited him, and he should have done something about it.  He should have stopped drinking.  In Positively Fifth Street, he divides his self into Good Jim and loutish Bad Jim, but Good Jim should have had a bit more foresight.

The Tea Party/Ayn Rand materialists who now control the Republican Party passed a Ulysses contract on the budget, then held President Obama's feet to the fire and nearly shut down the Government over it.  The President caved without really knowing what he was dealing with, or so it seems.  He lacks both insight and gumption, I'm afraid, when it comes to the Ayn Rand nation. 

Today I'm reading Gary Weiss's Ayn Rand Nation:  The Struggle for America's Soul.  I don't like the title, but the book has been very good so far.  I previously reviewed Thomas Frank's Pity the Billionaire in this blog, and his comments on Ayn Rand and her place in American politics were particularly alarming.

Still, it's springtime in Kentucky.  I look out the window and see the pastoral land in bloom.  Life is good.

Carole King's Memoir: A Natural Woman

"I have often asked myself the reason for the sadness
In a world where tears are just a lullaby.
If there's any answer, maybe love can end the madness.
Maybe not, oh, but we can only try."

Today I read the new memoir Carole King: A Natural Woman.  I suppose if there's any music I'm nostalgic for, it is that of the early seventies.  It seems like every woman I knew back then loved King's album, Tapestry, and so did I.  Seems like they all padded around their apartments in bare feet, most of them bra-less in their new sense of freedom, thus also conforming to the current fashion.
James Taylor and Carole King

A lot of them owned cats too, though I don't recall any cats named Telemachus--except for Carole King's cat on the album cover.

Telemachus was the son of Odysseus (Ulysses) and Penelope, of course, and James Joyce used his name as the title of the opening chapter of Ulysses, based upon Chapters I and II of The Odyssey and Scenes I and II of Act I of Hamlet.  I agree with John P. Anderson, whose interpretation says that this particular literary myth involves both betrayal and the struggle of the soul.

Ulysses met plenty of willing women, but it was his own wife that he longed for, and he continued to make his way home.

"Sometime I wonder if I'm ever gonna make home again.
It's so far and out of sight.
I really need someone to talk to, and nobody else
Knows how to comfort me tonight.
Snow is cold, rain is wet,
Chills my soul right to the marrow." 

In the long absence of her husband, Penelope put off her suitors by her preoccupation with weaving, at last saying she would name one of them as soon as she was finished making a shroud for her father-in-law.

Anyway, Carole King's memoir is good, on the same high level of two memoirs I read last year--Judy Collins's Judy Blue Eyes and Suze Rotolo's A Freewheelin' Time.  King seems a bit more guarded, but perhaps her private life has simply been more conventional.  There's lots of behind the scenes info on her music here.  Recommended.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Marginalia, Murder, Poker, and Book Art

 Author Garry Wallace says that he writes in the margins of the books in his personal library, and he's not the only one.  H. J. Jackson wrote a marvelous study of this practice entitled Marginalia:  Readers Writing in Books.

I never write in books myself because I occasionally resell a book here and there, but also because I realize that the personal meaning we derive from books changes as we age.  Wendy Lesser wrote the best study of that process in Nothing Remains The Same:  Rereading and Remembering.

Garry Wallace's account of meeting Cormac McCarthy back in 1989 reveals that, even then, McCarthy rarely read fiction and mostly studied works of science--physics and works relating to consciousness.  Twenty-some years of reading science does not make you a scientist, but it does make you very well-read in the field.
Dr. Lisa Randall

A recent article in the Guardian (link) briefly discusses some of the many works of science McCarthy has copy-edited.  Harvard physicist Lisa Randall says that they went over the material too.  No doubt these manuscripts with McCarthy's marginalia would sell for a high price at auction.

If poker player Betty Carey saved the Cormac McCarthy-annotated manuscript of her memoir, she would have no trouble finding a buyer for it now.

In the past two weeks I've read several other memoirs of poker players and have discovered that some of them are surprisingly good.

James McManus's poker/murder memoir Positively Fifth Street turned out to be full of classic literary references and fun to read.  He deftly compares the murderess's forecasting of her murder to the ramblings of the Wyrd sisters in MacBeth, and he summarizes Al Alvarez's ruminations on poker, Sylvia Plath, poetry, and suicide.

Texas drug king-pin Jimmy Chagra (think Chigurh) is in here too, along with interesting profiles of the Lederer family, Armarillo Slim, Stuey Ungar, and other professional poker players and gangsters.

McManus himself is the main character as he tries to survive the poker tournament, beset with challenges both professional and personal.  He brought to mind what neuroscientist David Eagleman says of the Ulysses contract and the arguments between our different selves.

McManus also brings in references to Dostoyevsky, Samuel Beckett, Tolstoy, Dante, Hemingway, and James Joyce.  He provides a succinct history of playing cards, of their mythic and historic symbolism.

Some of the best books I've read this month, a few of them discussed or intriguingly mentioned by McManus, include:
 Angel's Flight by Michael Connelly.  The title made me think of an Enya song, and of one by Sarah McLachlan.  I hadn't read any Harry Bosch novels in years.  I remember now how good they are.  The dustjacket art is by world class poker-player Jennifer Hayden, who is discussed by McManus. 

The Music of Chance by Paul Auster.  This is an interesting novel dealing with poker and lots of Masonic symbols.  Auster is always worth reading and Hayden did the dustjacket art for this one too.

Last Call by Tim Powers.  This is a naturalistic fantasy--no oxymoron intended--and I like reading Powers best when he leans toward that naturalism.  This features a poker game that combines tarot cards with regular poker cards.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Interview with Garry Wallace, pt. 2.

5.  In your book, you mention John Graves and, on your website, you list one of his works among your top ten books. Have you ever met the man?  Did you ever meet or correspond with the reclusive Cormac McCarthy again?

Garry Wallace:  I enjoyed John Graves’ Goodbye to a River so much that I began reading it a second time immediately after finishing it the first time. There are passages that I found unbeatable.

And no, I never tried to correspond with McCarthy again because I didn't want to become a pest.  When Betty Carey and I sat with Frank Morton over breakfast, he mentioned that Cormac once told a fan, who’d watched Cormac read a newspaper, that he couldn’t help him with whatever it was the person needed.

Certainly, I wished for some miracle to happen, which would endear me to the great author, but such a miracle did not happen. Later, I wished I’d at least have asked him to sign the books I’d purchased from the used&rare bookstore on Mesa avenue.

6.  I like your list of ten favorite books, and the text of your book shows you to be very widely read.  What other Wyoming and Montana authors would you especially recommended?

Garry Wallace:  I read A.B. Guthrie's The Big Sky many years ago, soon after I relocated from Iowa City to Missoula, Montana in 1975. My then wife and I had planned on moving to the Rocky Mountains after graduating from the Iowa university, but we ended up going different ways. She stayed in Iowa City to finish her degree, while I headed for Montana. . .

Although I was depressed and lonely, Guthrie's book and the actual "big sky" slowly healed my emotional wounds. I hiked up Mount Sentinel hundreds of times, and most times I had the mountain all to myself, not counting my dogs. . .

Eventually I read Stegner (favorite: Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, in part because it's about John Wesley Powell, and I live in Powell, Wyoming), Crumley and Harrison (Legends of the Fall), along with Ivan Doig (This House of Sky), Richard Ford (Rock Springs), and Thomas McGuane (Nothing but Blue Sky).

In 1990 I had the pleasure of being in James Crumley's Yellowbay workshop beside Flathead Lake in Montana. He resembled a Harley-riding biker, but he was fair when commenting on another's writing. Of his novels, my favorite is One to Count Cadence, which he said was his favorite too. And I can't forget William Kittredge's The Nature of Generosity.

7.  Back in 1989, Betty Carey and Cormac McCarthy both described themselves as outsiders.  "Outlaws," was the word McCarthy used in your memoir.  Do you still consider yourself a recluse?  Do you still hunt?  Do you still have Valley Girl?

Garry Wallace:  I’m still a recluse. I have one close friend with whom I share deepest thoughts and feelings. He and I teach at the same small college. We are both approaching retirement age.

I recently read The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati (1945), which is about the stages a man goes through during his adulthood, the hopes and dreams and reality regrets. I related to this book in that I never quite accomplished what I wanted. . .Still, each time a person compliments me on my book, the regrets temporarily disappear.

My taste in books has changed as my experience with life has changed, and although I do enjoy some fiction, like Dino Buzzati's The Tartar Steppe and McCarthy's books, I continue to prefer nonfiction, especially biographies of notable individuals.

I wish McCarthy would write a memoir, a down to earth book about his philosophy of life, something like Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections. (There are some things in Jung's book that I don't agree with, but overall it has engaged and satisfied me several times because it is real.)

To my students--I taught English Comp for several years after earning an MFA from Bennington College--I stress clarity, and that's what I hope I'm good at.  It was Hemingway, I think, who said to take the most difficult subject and explain it in the simplest words.

The most difficult subjects include our very existence and our ability to have awareness and to think.  So Man against God, or one man's beliefs vs. another's turn out to be each of our struggles to better understand.  Men like Cormac McCarthy, Dino Buzzati, and so many more are blessed with the ability to demonstrate these battles waged in our heads.

I do still hunt upland birds, but not as frequently as before. Degenerative disc disease, for which I’ve had five spine surgeries, laid me up for several years. I’ve recovered most of my strength over the past two years, and I’m looking forward to getting back into the field this coming autumn.

Old Valley Girl is getting up there in years and her compromised right hock, which she injured at 4 months of age, slows her down and gives her pain. V.G. and I are both a bit messed up.

Thank you for your time, Mr. Wallace.  It was a pleasure to discuss books with you.  I'll be looking forward to your book of essays and other works as soon as they are available.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cormac McCarthy, Betty Carey, Chigurh, and Spirituality

I'm going to interrupt the continuation of my interview with Garry Wallace to comment on Betty Carey, who is discussed in the interview and by Mr. Wallace previously in his essay, "Meeting Cormac McCarthy."
Betty Carey, a true maverick, "beautiful and fierce. . ."

Betty Carey--still very much alive, just reclusive--is an extraordinary poker player.  You can see a large amount of her history at this link.  She learned poker from her father at an early age, but she became a world class player on her own hook.  Amarillo Slim, at this link, says that she was the best female poker player he ever saw.

Jimmy Chagra, the notorious drug dealer and no doubt an inspiration for Chigurh--McCarthy's villain in No Country For Old Men--once staked Betty Carey to a high stakes poker game with Amarillo Slim.  Chagra had been beaten by Amarillo Slim and he wanted to see him taken down.  Chagra's history is told at this link and it ironically involves murder and Woody Harrelson's father.  Woody himself plays Wells in the movie, one of the people Chigurh kills.

As she herself said, Betty was different from most people, out of the mainstream,  a maverick.  That term has been much maligned by politicians in recent years, but you should see Owen Ulph's definition at this link.  Think of Jodie Foster's part as an existential maverick in the comic movie, Maverick.

It appears that Betty retired from the nightlife and the celebrity to stay in Wyoming and raise her daughter.  She certainly won enough money to be independent, although she lost too and once said, "The real luxury of life is being able to wear blue jeans anywhere I go.”

Betty Carey's freedom was the subject of just about every quote in an Associated Press article about her, carried in the The Palm Beach Post on October 29, 1983.  She only rode bareback, she said, because she didn't believe that saddles were good for horses or people either.  She said that people made their own luck, for better or worse.  Alongside the article was a picture of the reclusive lady poolside in a string bikini.  The two men beside her are unidentified but I think that one of them is Amarillo Slim Preston. 

Amarillo Slim says he gave her a job once when she needed one, but that she returned to Wyoming when she was able, and it didn't take long.  Many years later, in 2008, she came out of seclusion to enter the World Series of Poker, finishing 36th out of the 716 players who entered. 

In Garry Wallace's memoir, he recalls Cormac McCarthy meeting with them in El Paso back in March, 1989, to talk with them about a memoir of her gambling adventures.  Wallace had been helping her write it, but they'd thus far been unable to obtain a publisher.  Their conversation reveals much about McCarthy's reading and writing and character.  You should read Wallace's entire essay.

The scene shifted across town where Betty, McCarthy, and Wallace joined up with their mutual friend, professional gambler and evangelist Frank Morton.  Garry Wallace says that it was then that the topic of conversation turned to spiritual matters:

"Frank related a number of personal religious experiences that he had had over the years, pointing out the flaws in other people's lack of faith.  I challenged him, saying that one day science would understand these unexplained phenomena for what they really were.'

"McCarthy commented that some cultures used drugs to enhance the spiritual experience, and he said that he had tried LSD before that drug was made illegal.  He said that it had helped to open his eyes to these kinds of experiences.'

"Betty recounted having seen the image of Christ on a bus while in Costa Rica.  This had been at a time following the casino scam when Betty had been on the run.  She said that her experience was as real as our sitting together in the motel room.  It had not been a dream or a hallucination.'

"Always the skeptic, I said 'But how does that prove Christianity?  Why not Buddha or Allah?  You saw Jesus because you were raised in Jesus-land.'  I looked to Frank and McCarthy.  Their expressions were sympathetic."

McCarthy then spoke about spiritual experiences and asked Wallace if he'd ever read William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience.  "His attitude seemed to indicate that in this book were the answers to many of the questions posed in our evening discussion.  I was nonplussed."

Months later, Garry Wallace wrote McCarthy, "completing a few thoughts I'd been unable to that night we discussed spiritual experiences.  Some time later, I received a reply."

"He said that the religious experience is always described through the symbols of a particular culture and thus is somewhat misrepresented by them. . .He went on to say that he thinks the mystical experience is a direct apprehension of reality, unmediated by symbol, and he ended with the thought that the inability to see spiritual truth is the greater mystery."

Next: The Garry Wallace interview, part two.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Interview: Garry Wallace, Cormac McCarthy, Bird Dogs, and the Life of the Mind

This is part one of a follow-up interview to my review of Garry Wallace's 2007 book, Biography of a Bird Dog.  I think you'll enjoy his opinions of Cormac McCarthy, books, and the life of the mind.

1. Your BIOGRAPHY OF A BIRD DOG was well reviewed but still not known as widely as it should be. Sometimes the best way to sell such a good book is to get another one published. What else do you have in the works?

Garry Wallace:  I’m currently putting the final touches on a collection of published essays titled “Meeting Cormac McCarthy—and 9 Notable Essays of the Year.” Somehow, Robert Atwan, series editor of The Best American Essays, selected nine of my personal essays for “Notable Essay of the Year.” So, to put these essays together along with my Southern Quarterly essay about meeting Cormac McCarthy, I’m using Create Space, a division of

2.  In your meeting with him, Cormac McCarthy seems very spiritual--though not particularly religious--and you seem to be the thorough skeptic.  As Oprah said to McCarthy, do you believe in God?  And now that the decades have passed since your meeting with Cormac McCarthy, what is your take on both the author and his works?

Garry Wallace:  I have looked forward to McCarthy's novels and other writings, and I'm glad some have been made into movies, which is not to say I like the movies better. I'm just glad that he has received the recognition I feel he deserves.

I remember when I first learned about him from Betty Carey. Frank Morton had lent her a first edition copy of Suttree. As I began reading that book, I realized at once that I'd entered another dimension and I felt changed by the experience. That is the wonderful thing about books. They have the power to alter a person's mind, his way of thinking and perceiving the world.

I felt honored to have been granted access to McCarthy's world. Although I like different aspects of his novels, the part I still like best is Part II of The Crossing. It is in that chapter that McCarthy best expresses his thesis, his message. The heretic challenges God from beneath the ruins of a church, while the priest keeps clear of the danger.
A kind of mind meld:  Garry Wallace and Valley Girl

During my years of indecision about the existence of God, while in Missoula, I would jog to the top of Mount Sentinel during thunderstorms. Back then I was young and dumb. Today I would do no such thing. I treasure life too much, and I understand that every day of life takes me one day closer to death.

I do not believe in an afterlife, so I try to live each day to its fullest. I'm not perfect in this regard. I do still waste days recovering from previous nights' binges, but I'm slowly getting my act together. The memoir I'm working on in bits and pieces is about my struggles. I'm calling it "Acceptance." We learn about Man against Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. God, but I believe it all boils down to is Man against himself, because all our thoughts, fears, aches and pains take place in our very own brains.

So I've taken on my own study of the brain, the mind, the consciousness. I wish I'd studied psychology when I was young.

3.  Did you act on Cormac McCarthy's recommendation to read William James regarding the individual spiritual experience?

Garry Wallace:  I’ve been reading a biography of William James, and although I enjoyed the first part of this book, I stopped reading when it entered James’ metaphysical leanings. I grew up in two families—the churchgoing family of my mother and the more secular family of my father. I was a devout Lutheran through my teenage years, but when I entered college and met a girl who was not religious, I gradually lost my faith in the Triune God and became agnostic, similar to the leanings of William James, although I didn’t know about James at that time.

Divorced after two years of marriage, I relocated to Montana, where, for about ten years, I sat on the fence.  I became atheist by day and agnostic by night.

Poker-playing pro, Betty Carey

4.  Your 1992 article was also about professional poker player Betty Carey? Did she ever publish her work on casino corruption that Cormac McCarthy was reviewing? Did you have any experiences with her later? Or with professional gambler Frank Morton?
Garry Wallace: Betty never finished her book. She moved to Alaska where she could maximize her reclusiveness. We crossed paths a few times over the past two decades and I learned that she had a son and that Frank Morton had his larynx removed because of cancer. He was a chain smoker.

(continued in next post)


Back in 1992, back when Cormac McCarthy was reclusive and neither rich nor famous, The Southern Quarterly devoted an entire issue to critical essays on the emerging author and his works.  Most of these have been reprinted in newer collections, but one of the most outstanding essays was not and it became a rare and much sought after item, for, among other things, it reveals McCarthy's spirituality.

That essay is Garry Wallace's "Meeting Cormac McCarthy."  Excerpts have been quoted here and there, but the entire essay must be read to grasp its artful nuances.  Garry Wallace is a stylist, and his simple sentences are freighted with implications beyond the words.  The good news is that he will soon make available a book of his award-winning essays, including this one, so that they can be ordered on-line.

After deconstructing his McCarthy essay last week, I did a search to find anything else written by him.  His 2007 book, BIOGRAPHY OF A BIRD DOG, is still in print, so I sent for that.  I'm a seasonal reader and I like to read dog stories in the fall, in hunting season, so I figured I would put it on the back shelf until then.

But I was immediately drawn into this artfully constructed work of creative non-fiction.  I found myself rooting for the man and his dogs, drawn on by his troubles and trials and his insights into them.  Wallace, who teaches biology and writing at a college in Wyoming, is very widely read, and he draws on that reading time and time again for insights into the human/canine condition.

The pages seemed to fly quickly.  It is a large easy-to-open trade paperback, and the print is easy to read.  But what makes this 490-page book a quick read is the author's engaging style, the magic of his prose, the telling.  The next thing I knew, my wife brought me dinner on a tray instead of calling me to the table.  She's seen this before.  I thanked her and read on.

I was sorry to see the book end, but grateful for the experience.  You know the feeling.  There's an epilogue, then an about-the-author page, then a list running several pages of the author's suggested reading--from which I've now ordered a couple of books.

This is, first, a character-driven work of creative non-fiction that touches on many facets of the human condition.  There is naturalism here, a cycling of life, death, and rebirth.  It is also, naturally, a dog story, a personal memoir full of literary references, and a western pastoral beautifully told.  I say so having paid the full price for the book at Amazon unsolicited, with no agenda other than to spread the word about this gem.   

The author maintains a website  at this link, where he lists his ten favorite books as:

  • Goodbye to a River
    by John Graves
  • Gathering Evidence
    by Thomas Bernhard
  • Crime and Punishment
    by Dostoevsky
  • The Crossing
    by Cormac McCarthy
  • Memories, Dreams, Reflections
    by Carl G. Jung
  • Confessions of a Philosopher
    by Bryan Magee
  • Lila
    by Robert M. Pirsig
  • Waiting for the Barbarians
    by J.M. Coetzee
  • Speak, Memory
    by Vladimir Nabokov
  • A Beautiful Mind
    by Sylvia Nasar
I contacted Mr. Wallace and asked for an interview.  He was kind enough to answer my questions--impressively, as you shall see in the next post.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


I highly recommend The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess: Race, Religion, and DNA by Jeff Wheelwright, an excellent piece of history and journalism. It involves the genetic tracing of a Hispano community that descends from mixed Spanish and Pueblo/Apache American Indians.

They had valued light skin, generally, and “had wallpapered over” their Native American ancestry. Genetic testing revealed that they also descended from Sephardic Jews persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition, though some of them rejected the DNA science and the recommended breast cancer scans. It is a cautionary science vs. religion tale about the value of DNA testing.

Other recent books include:

  • GOD’S JURY: THE INQUISITION AND THE MAKING OF THE MODERN WORLD by Cullen Murphy.  The editor-at-large from Vanity Fair takes on Bureaucracy and draws connections between the Spanish Inquisition and the current Pope, between the tortures of dissenters throughout the ages and more pointedly with reference to what has happened in the post-911 United States.  Recommended.

  • PAPER PROMISES: DEBT, MONEY, and THE NEW WORLD ORDER by Philip Coggan.  Another incisive work on the nature of our on-going finiancial crisis.  Nicely done, though this one did not affect my thinking nearly as much as Margaret Atwood's Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth.

  • TRIGGERS by Robert J. Sawyer.  Looks like another good one from a sci-fi mainstay, always mixing philosophy with speculative science.

  • SACRE' BLEU: A COMEDY D'ART by Christopher Moore.  Wow, I love the book art here, which includes a colorful map of Paris.  Moore is also the author of several irreverently comic romps including Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff: Christ's Childhood Pal, which looks like a Bible on the bookshelf.  This time it's Vincent van Gogh.

  • CITY OF BOHANE: A NOVEL by Kevin Barry.  Another comic romp set in the satirical future.  Everyone is touting this Irish author, praising his word-play and daring.  So far, count me in too.
  • THE LIFE OF SUPER-EARTHS: HOW THE HUNT FOR ALIEN WORLDS AND ARTIFICIAL CELLS WILL REVOLUTIONIZE LIFE ON OUR PLANET by Dimitar Sasselov, Professor of Astronomy at Harvard.  Speculative science and quite interesting.

  • BIOGRAPHY OF A BIRD DOG: A LABRADOR RETRIEVER IN WYOMING by Garry Wallace.  This little known gem from 2007 turned out to be one of my best books of the year.  A splendid piece of creative non-fiction written in beautiful prose.  I'll post my review soon, along with an interview with this talented author.
  • Monday, April 2, 2012

    Happy April Fool's Day!

    Last year's April Fool's Day post is at this link.  And my list of April-related books is at his link.

    April Fool's day was born over the controversy among Christian historians regarding the birth of Jesus Christ, a controversial subject in those days.  Most Christian historians said that Christ was born in the spring, but the smart money, which won the day, argued that the Holy Birth coincided with the pagan holiday of winter solstice and involved an evergreen tree.

    I'm not quite certain how the April Fool's Day joke evolved from this, but apparently back in the olden days there were court jesters whose job it was to make merry among the dour politicians and the day became one for pranks.

    An April Fool's Day salute to the joker by John K. Walters appeared in the April, 1997 issue of Biblio, and it contained many of the early illustrations of the card.

    The joker in the modern playing deck of cards was introduced in the 1860s and it caught on quickly.  It evolved partly from The Fool in the much older Tarot deck and some of the early jokers carry some of the same symbolism.

    The joker is the wild card, the shape shifter who can assume all of the other identities in the deck, just as the everyman fool progresses amongst and interacts with all of the other tarot cards.  The fool is an id man, unsure of his footing, on the edge of a cliff he is oblivious to, in denial of death.

    The bundle on the fool's shoulder carries every mistake he ever made.  His story is a tale told by an id-iot, full of sound and fury.  signifying nothing.  The dog at his feet is in some decks represented as a cat or a tiger, and the earliest joker yet discovered had a tiger on it.

    The fool is not really dumb, just ignorant, naive--just green, you might say.  Spring green, apple green, a youth, an April Fool.  Doesn't the world seem apple green when you're seventeen and in love?  Young possessive love can be sweet, but it also can be a just a flirt--shallow and fickle.

    Nat King Cole:

    It was a lucky April shower.
    It was the most convenient door.
    I found a million dollar baby
    in a five and ten cent store.
    The rain continued for an hour.
    I hung around for three or four.
    Around a million dollar baby
    in a five and ten cent store.
    Should you get stranded by a shower,
    just step inside my cottage door
    and meet the million dollar baby
    from the five and ten cent store.

    Pat Boone:

    April love is for the very young.
    Every star's a wishing star that shines for you.
    April love is all the seven wonders.
    One little kiss can tell you this is true.

    Sometimes an April day will suddenly bring showers,
    rain to grow the flowers for her first bouquet.
    But April love can slip right through your fingers,
    so if she's the one, don't let her run away.

    April can be the sweetest month, but it can also seem cruel and a tease.  It can turn trusting smiles upside down.  T. S. Eliot:

    April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.

    Ernest Hemingway:  "When the cold rains would come and kill the young buds of spring, it was as if a young person had died for no good reason."

    Even the weather can say, "April Fool."
    "There must be some way outta here, said the Joker to the Thief." -- Bob Dylan