All the wondrous stories

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I love the smell, the feel, the secrets of old paper. Yellowing pages attract me like moth to light – they are a time machine – a glimpse into another era, the significance of the words and images transformed and enhanced by what has come into the world since – a snapshot of a moment filled with promise that we now know whether it was fulfilled.

I love holding old stuff, admiring the work done with old tools I can barely fathom let alone understand how the raw materials became this.

“There are only three stories,” someone said, or was it fewer, or more?

Google The Great and Powerful yields:

“Every story is either The Iliad or The Odyssey.” Perhaps I need to read those again.

A Mr. Booker told the New York Times once that there are seven basic plots. 1. Overcoming the Monster; 2. Rags to Riches; 3. The Quest; 4. Voyage and Return; 5. Rebirth; 6. Comedy; 7. Tragedy.

Leo Tolstoy suggested there are two stories: A man goes on a journey. A stranger comes to town.

Borges said four stories: A love story between two people; a love story among three people; the struggle for power; the voyage.

I say:

There are 7 billion stories, and one: We are born, we live, we die.

Tell me a story, won’t you?

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W.B.’s Book Report: Men in War

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The first book I’ve read that was recommended by Haunted Bookshop owner Roger Mifflin, Men in War by Andreas Latzko is a scream of rage and unimaginable pain, a primal scream against the inhumanity that Latzko endured as a soldier of Austria-Hungary on the River Isonzo front against Italy in 1916. If I didn’t understand what men in war have been through, now I have an inkling. The book is a powerful, life-changing experience that I must force myself to read again soon.

Men in War is a novel with six chapters, more accurately described as six short stories, linked mainly by the front and by the unrelenting despair and senselessness of the situation. This is a book that should shake the reader to the core. No wonder the Hitler regime had it burned – it exposes far too much of what the war machine is all about.

“My Comrade (A Diary),” the fourth chapter, is a bomb – a rant of common sense from a man diagnosed as mentally ill because he carries the memories of the men he has seen destroyed by war and he cannot fathom the insanity that did them such harm. It’s a clear peek behind the haunted eyes of those who have seen the same: We see that such memories cannot possibly be compartmentalized or tucked away forgotten. I would guess they can only be endured a best as one can.

Latzko wrote Men in War (Menschen im Krieg) during his rehabilitation from physical and psychic injuries sustained during his service; he served on the Isonzo front during 1916, suffering malaria and then severe shock from a heavy Italian artillery barrage. After eight months in the hospital, he moved to Davos, Switzerland, for further recuperation and rehab, where he wrote the book in 1917.

This is the book that Christopher Morley, through Mifflin, says “was so damned true that the government suppressed it.” One prays Latzko got some relief by letting the words pour out of his fingers. He does a service to humanity by sharing the inhumanity he witnessed and by letting us see and feel the damage done to his heart and soul.

Here is a link to the book at Project Gutenberg.

(Photo: © Andrew Emptage | Dreamstime.com Preserved trench network at Sanctuary Wood near Ypres on the Western Front battlefields of the first world war. Photo taken on March 10, 2010)

W.B.’s Book Report: The Haunted Bookshop

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It’s been a long time since I was as charmed by a reading experience as I was by Christopher Morley’s The Haunted Bookshop. Released in 1919, this book is filled (through bookseller Roger Mifflin) with Morley’s passionate hope that the lessons from the recently completed Great Was would be learned and that humanity would never turn to such senseless brutality to solve its differences again.

Seen through the lens of nearly 100 more years of history, Mifflin seems a trifle naive, especially when he puts his faith in Woodrow Wilson, who is about to embark on a peace conference, but Morley also inject elements that suggest he, too, knows that peace is an elusive goal.

The Haunted Bookshop is a wondrous ode to books and literature. a tremendous manifesto against the silliness and futility of war, and an adequate little mystery and love story. There are dozens of good suggestions for future reading and plenty of sound philosophy and observations about life, living, and what the weary world had just experienced.

I finished this book reluctantly, wanting the story to continue and wishing to have more of the loquacious Roger Mifflin – the good news is there is one previous book in Morley’s quiver about the bookseller who so loved books and peace.

Morley peppers the book with references to other 1919-era books, some familiar to me and many not, so I could spend quite a bit of time tracking them down and seeing for myself what delighted Morley/Mifflin so.

I can’t recommend The Haunted Bookshop enthusiastically enough.

Here is a link to the book at Project Gutenberg.

Books I must seek out: The Haunted Bookshop

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“Like everything else, (Truth) was rationed by the governments. I taught myself to disbelieve half of what I read in the papers. I saw the world clawing itself to shreds in blind rage. I saw hardly any one brave enough to face the brutalizing absurdity as it really was, and describe it. I saw the glutton, the idler, and the fool applauding, while brave and simple men walked in the horrors of hell. The stay-at-home poets turned it to pretty lyrics of glory and sacrifice. Perhaps half a dozen of them have told the truth. Have you read Sassoon? Or Latzko’s Men in War, which was so damned true that the government suppressed it? Humph! Putting Truth on rations!”

“You see those children going down the street to school? Peace lies in their hands. When they are taught in school that war is the most loathsome scourge humanity is subject to, that it smirches and fouls every lovely occupation of the mortal spirit, then there may be some hope for the future. But I’d like to bet they are having it drilled into them that war is a glorious and noble sacrifice.”

Those are two excerpts from a book called The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley, which was not written last year but in 1919, just after the Great War to End All Wars. We’ve seen how that turned out.

Read more about Morley and an extended excerpt at this link:

Roger Mifflin reflects on the Great War

2017 saved the best for last

W.B. at the Movies/W.B.’s Book Report:

I’ve been tracking the books I’ve read since 1994, and no year in this recorded history have I read as many as the 66 books that I devoured in 2017.

Michael Connelly accounted for 21 of those books, and my re-immersion into audiobooks (with a new 45-mile commute starting in March) is responsible for 44 of them. I became addicted to Connelly after deciding to sample his work after falling in love with the Amazon TV show Bosch, based on Connelly’s detective hero Harry Bosch. The books are as binge-worthy as the show, and the latest, Two Kinds of Truth, may be the best yet.

I also discovered Craig Johnson’s series of mysteries about Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire, and for essentially the same reason: I thoroughly enjoyed the Longmire TV show on Netflix and wanted more. The best thing is that Johnson’s regular reader, actor George Guidall, embodies Walt Longmire even better than Robert Taylor does on screen, so the novels I’ve “read” (the first five of 13 so far) have been a delight.

Unbroken-coverThe last book I “read” in 2017 was Laura Hillenbrand’s page-turner biography, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption. I don’t read many biographies, but I was taken by Hillenbrand’s earlier book Seabiscuit and heard good things about this one.

Her story of Louis Zamperini – who carried the Olympic torch in 1990 through a town not far from the Japanese prisoner of war camp where he lived a hellacious existence for nearly two years – is as good as it gets.

Zamperini lived a remarkable 97-year life that saw him compete in the Olympics, survive 47 days in a liferaft on the Pacific Ocean after a bomber crash, struggle through the POW experience and post-war alcoholism, and emerge to find a way to forgive his tormentors. Hillenbrand’s prose more than does justice to an uncommon man.

Star-Wars-The-Last-Jedi-posterI don’t keep track of the movies or TV shows I’ve watched (there are too many), but I do know my favorite movie theater experience of 2017 was also the last one: Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi. This film starring Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker was the most fun I’ve had in that long-ago, far-away galaxy since 1980 and The Empire Strikes Back.

Writer-director Rian Johnson filled the story with surprises, some more breathtaking than others, and we had a ball. This is just me, but you should know that back in the 1970s and early ’80s I watched the first three Star Wars films six to eight times each on the big screen. I even watched the much-maligned prequels of 15-20 years ago multiple times in the theater.

The 2015 revival film, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, was tremendous, yet I didn’t watch it a second time until a couple of weeks ago. It was great, but it didn’t draw my inner geek back for repeats. As this latest film reached its climax, however, I felt that old familiar tug of wanting to get back in line for another ride on the roller coaster.

I wholly recommend Unbroken to people who love a great book and Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi to people who love a great space opera. I know some people think Johnson took too many liberties with what they consider the Star Wars canon, but I don’t agree in the slightest. Last Jedi is a rousing flick that adds a small handful of exclamation points to the legend.