DUSTING OFF FOUR SINCLAIR LEWIS CLASSICS

Browsing the  “Classics” section in the local library can be truly rewarding and it is a very private place!  I promise, you will have a  “I always wanted to  read that” moment! Move along the shelf to the “L” section and pull four of the very best from Sinclair Lewis.  Main Street,  Elmer Gantry, Dodsworth, and Babbitt.  The stories  are timeless.

Babbitt,  a man in “mid-life crisis” before anyone had coined the term!  Dodsworth, the least likely expatriate,  an adoring  husband following  his adventurous wife into a The Sun Also Rises escapade in Europe.  Elmer Gantry invents and reinvents himself listening to his own voice stepping into the world of traveling tent evangelism.  Main Street, back to  small town America and Minnesota roots with a dash of Prairie Home Companion, long before Garrison Keillor was born.

We all look to the New York Times Best Seller List but obviously so many of the great ones have already been written.  Visit or re-visit Sinclair Lewis and you will quickly forget that these books were published in the 1920s.  They are equally if not more relevant today and the beauty of the writing is nourishing to the mind and soul.

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, READ IT BEFORE SEEING!

Did Sara Gruen, author of  the novel Water for Elephants, grow up in a circus family?  Was she an equestrian center ring star or a master trainer of elephants?  Did she and the other members or her family leave her father largely alone with his memories in a  “respectable nursing home?”  The answer to all of the previous questions is no!

How then did Sara Gruen create two marvelous parallel stories packed with  the intricate details and broad panorama of a Great Depression era travelling circus and the daily routine of a ninety-three year-old man spending his last days reminiscing in a nursing home?  My observation is that Gruen has a vivid imagination, wonderful story telling skills, and sought out the correct research to bring realistic detail to the story.

After devouring this book ( that is what you will likely do)  I think you will agree that there is little wonder why it has been on the New York Times Trade Fiction Best Seller List for 111 weeks!

I don’t know which story I like better. Is it Jacob in his old age making every effort to maintain his dignity and self-esteem? Or is it Jacob the young would-be-veterinarian out of Cornell before graduating , running away from  a family tragedy and in the dead of night hopping a circus train ? Is it the beautiful young Marlena the equestrian circus star stuck in a hopelessly abusive marriage?  Is it Rosie, an elephant that only understands Polish that becomes the glue in a love story?  Is it the collection of humanity that populates a travelling circus stuck in a daily struggle for survival?

I wonder if the up-coming movie can possibly create the color, smells, smiles, sadness, humanity and empathy that Sara Gruen has done so beautifully in WATER for ELEPHANTS.  I hope so. I will be there but I am sure glad I read the book first!

One final thought, buy WATER for ELEPHANTS in hardcover. It will stand the test of time in your library!

FOR DAVID BROOKS, A DEBT OF GRATITUDE

The  writing in the dust cover of  David Brook’s The Social Animal concludes with these words ” The Social Animal is a moving and nuanced intellectual adventure, a story of achievement and a defense of progress. Impossible to put down, it is an essential book for our time. ”  

That brief summary, though accurate, misses thousands of emotion packed paragraphs and words that help the reader understand the human condition and the  conscious but more importantly the unconscious actions and perceptions of the human mind.  You will ask yourself time and again, ” Is that me?”

You may keep turning back to the cover just to check if David Brooks wrote this book!  That is not criticism but rather a joyful revelation into the depth of a  writer whom I have always admired but on a more superficial level.  The Social Animal, among all  he has written , is in my view the most profound of  his literary accomplishments.

It is sheer brilliance that Brook’s enlightens the reader on the evolution of human emotion , combines theory with impeccable research and tells the story in the narrative of the lives of two very different people, Erica and Harold.   Just when the facts and scientific detail becomes almost overwhelming,  Erica and Harold reappear and alas reality, at the breakfast table , the office, in bed.  I see now! I get it!

Here is my The Social Animal index but do not look for page numbers.  You will make the discoveries yourself.    Love, Sex,  Marriage, Children, Pride, Fear, Career,  Egos, Bosses, Corporations,  Politics, Glass Ceilings,  Retirement, Aging, God. 

During your The Social Animal journey you may quip to yourself, ” Am I reading Dr. Spock or Alvin Toffler? Did David McCulloch ghost write a paragraph or two?  Is this book auto-biographical?”

I have sent a  fatherly  note to all of my children  titled ” Command Performance” which is usually a reference to appearances at holiday dinners.  This command is to read The Social Animal!

 I was moved to leave you with a few lines from the last page of The Social Animal . Erica and Harold are in the autumn of their years and Harold is near death. Brooks writes, “In his last moments there were neither boundaries nor features. He was unable to wield the power of self-consciousness but was also freed from its shackles. He made some gestures and twitches, which the doctors would call involuntary but which in this case were more deeply felt than any other gesture could be.  And one of them was a long squeeze of the hand, which Erica took to mean goodbye.  What had been there at the start was there at the end, the tangle of  sensations, perceptions, drives, and needs that we call, antiseptically, the unconscious. “

I’VE ONLY READ 250 PAGES BUT GET THE SOCIAL ANIMAL NOW!

I will admit that I have forever been a fan of David Brooks’ columns in the New York Times and his ubiquitous television appearances.  I am now an even greater fan after consuming the first 250 pages of his new book The Social Animal.  You would never guess that David Brooks wrote this book! Is it a self-help book, business book, child rearing book?  That will be your decision. I will further report upon completion which at the current pace of consumption will be shortly!

Emotion and the role it plays in our lives and how important it is in our decisions.  Upon this basic premise Brooks  creates a composite couple Harold and Erica and the wonderful journey of understanding ourselves begins.

Head for the bookstore and begin seeing your own life unfold. The Social Animal becomes more absorbing with each page!

Kane & Able If You Missed It Read It Now!

Bestselling author Jeffrey Archer’s Kane and Able is truly a fabulous novel that follows the lives of two boys born  worlds apart on the same day in 1906. They  grow into manhood  to intersect each others lives in most incredible ways.  Kane and Able from my perspective is Jeffrey Archer at his very best but of course that is a personal observation about an author who has written success upon success.

The scion of a noble New England  banking family and a Polish immigrant born of unknown parentage are each determined to excel beyond the hopes and dreams of their probable and improbable backgrounds.   Archer developes the characters and the plot and weaves a story that is impossible for the reader to predict but satisfying in every single chapter. If you need more detail check out the hundreds of on-line reviews.  Hard to find a bad one!

You will have to dust off  the paperback version of this 1979 Archer best seller if you go to the local bookstore but it comes dust-free on-line.

If you want a great Gordon’s Good Reads recommendation enjoy this book now! Everyone that I have passed it along to has been grateful!

BIRKEBEINER

The American Birkebeiner  is the largest Nordic ski marathon in North America.  Jeff Foltz of  the University of Southern Maine and a resident of Camden has participated in the 32-mile race five times.  He committed to writing his first novel BIRKEBEINER after seeing the  famous Norwegian painting Skiing Birchlegs Crossing the Mountain with the Royal Child by Knud Larsen Bergslein.

Fascinated with the legend portrayed in Berglstein’s work , Folk travelled to Norway to research the thirteenth century folklore of an incredible trek by a young mother, her child and two soldiers across 7000-foot mountains, snow choked valleys and sub-zero temperatures  to save the life of her infant boy who would  one day be king of Norway.

Eight hundred years ago the Croziers and Birchlegs were engaged in a brutal  war over who would control the Norwegian throne. As the legend unfolds, Croziers overrun the Birchlegs at Lillehammer. Desperate to save the life of their two-year-old son King Hakon of the Birchlegs, dying from the wounds of battle, dispatches Prince Hakon and his mother Inga  along with two loyal medieval Birchleg Soldiers on an impossible nine-day trek to safety in faraway Nidaros.  

The trio is pursued by a force triple their size led by none other than the Crozier heir apparent, Magnus!  His mission is to kill Prince Hakon to prevent his possible ascension to the throne and preserve his own legacy. Only a Nordic skier like Folk could attempt to accurately recreate this near impossible ordeal in an environment both breathtakingly beautiful and as hostile as one can imagine.  The descriptions are mindful of the detail in the epic true story The Endurance, Ernest Shackelton’s  Antarctic sailing from Elephant Island then climbing across the impossible terrain on South Georgia Island to reach the whaling station and ultimately save every member of his crew.

Underlying the suspense and adventure is the time-honored story of motherhood, war and a mothers love for her child. In this novel Folk pursues one version of the royal child legend and makes the mother Inga the heroine.  Bergslein’s painting tells the other version of only the two Birchleg Soldiers skiing the child to safety.

BIRKEBEINER could easily be overlooked but once you open the cover, whether or not you are a Nordic skier,  you will be enveloped in the story.

Nine Short Stories/One Great Writer. How To Breathe Underwater

What is so wonderful about Julie Orringer’s  How To Breathe Underwater is that there is a piece of each of us in all of the nine short stories.

Orringer’s passages  through childhood and puberty are incredibly vivid and will register in your mind and jolt your own recall of life experiences exactly like those jumping from pages.

The message in How To Breathe Underwater comes from the hand of a gifted writer offering a combination of imagination and reality told through true to life characters whom we have all met at some point in our childhood and adolescence.  You may even find yourself!

You will find Orringer’s How to Breathe Underwater  so compelling that you will likely turn through all nine stories non-stop.