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Reviewer's Bookwatch

Volume 24, Number 1 January 2024 Home | RBW Index

Table of Contents

Andy Jordan's Bookshelf Ann Skea's Bookshelf Carl Logan's Bookshelf
Clint Travis' Bookshelf Gregory Stephenson's Bookshelf Jack Mason's Bookshelf
John Burroughs' Bookshelf John Morrow's Bookshelf Julie Summers' Bookshelf
K.C. Finn's Bookshelf Margaret Lane's Bookshelf Mark Walker's Bookshelf
Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf Michael Carson's Bookshelf Niles Reddick's Bookshelf
Robin Friedman's Bookshelf Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf Susan Bethany's Bookshelf
Willis Buhle's Bookshelf    

Andy Jordan's Bookshelf

A Towering Task
Alana DeJoseph, director
Annette Bening, narrator
First Run Features
FRF 9183120, $9.99, HD, DVD (1 Hour 53 Minutes)

Synopsis: Ably narrated by Annette Bening and directed by Alana DeJoseph, "A Towering Task" is a documentary that tells the remarkable story of the Peace Corps, taking viewers on a journey of what it means to be a global citizen. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy gave Americans the opportunity to serve their country in a new way by forming the Peace Corps. Since then, more than 240,000 have traveled to 140 countries to carry out the organization's mission.

Critique: Of special and particular informative value for viewers with an interest in the Peace Corp and its history, "A Towering Task" is an impressive documentary, and one that is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, highschool, community, and college/university library American History DVD collections.

Editorial Note: First Run Features was founded in 1979 by a group of filmmakers to advance the distribution of independent film. Under the leadership of the late Fran Spielman, First Run Features quickly gained a reputation for its controversial catalog of daring documentaries and fiction films. Seymour Wishman continued her legacy over the next 38 years. Today First Run remains one of the largest independent distributors in North America, releasing 10 films a year in theaters nationwide and an additional 20 films annually to educational institutions, on home video, to television broadcasters, and online through a diverse mix of digital platforms.

Andy Jordan

Ann Skea's Bookshelf

But The Girl
Jessica Zhan Mei Yu
The Unnamed Press
9781951213985, $18.00

'I was meant to be writing a postcolonial novel. It had been an immigrant novel first but I learned the word 'postcolonial' at university and I had started to say that was what I was writing on grant applications and the like. It was also good to say to people who asked what my book was about because it intimidated them'.

Girl, whose name we never learn, is the Australian daughter of immigrant parents from Penang. She is Australian because her heavily pregnant mother, 'Ma', had 'held on tight to her pelvic muscles' to keep her in until their flight landed in Australia. As a second generation immigrant, she knows she is expected to achieve all that her parents could not. Her family believed, she tells us, that their 'job was to do everything for me so I could be freed up to be brilliant and clever and hardworking'.

Now, Girl is twenty-two, a clever winner of awards, and supposed to be writing a Ph.D thesis 'on the postcolonial in Sylvia Plath's poetry' although she hasn't 'written a word'. When we first meet her, she is in London for a few days before taking a train to Arbroath in Scotland to take up a Commonwealth scholarship of a month-long artist's residency. There, she should work on her postcolonial novel, before returning to London to present a paper at a postcolonial literature conference.

Girl, as she is always called by her mother, 'Ma', her fierce grandmother 'Ah Ma', and her father (who she has nicknamed 'Ikanyu' - shark - because 'The Australian Dentist' had made big, scary, Australian teeth for his 'small Malaysian Chinese' face), is full of guilt, not only because she has written nothing but also because she feels that whatever she works on she is 'taking the easy way out'.

'Therapists were always saying guilt was not a useful emotion but I found it to be an extremely helpful one - guilt was the sticky, sweet, heavily carbonated energy drink that helped me power through each task, to keep going'.

What she is working for, she does not know, but she is knows how to please those who give her scholarships and how to simulate delight at all she has received, regarding it as 'the exchange you make: your facial expression for their funding'.

Girl is not always this cynical, but she does have trouble adapting to expected social norms, often feeling as if she is 'on display and performing the role of a nice, normal human person'. Her Ma has taught her, too, to be suspicious of too-friendly men, which does not help her interactions with Luke, who is the arts manager of the philanthropic society which has awarded her the scholarship, and who acts as her guide during her few days in London. He is friendly and helpful but she suspects he is 'ham sap', as her Ma warns in a text: like a wolf, 'prowling around looking for pret' ('I read that a few times before I realised that she meant prey'). In Scotland with the other scholarship holders she is equally ill-at-ease. In the first group session, where they are invited to introduce themselves and outline what they are working on, others describe their work with enthusiasm and at length, Girl says only 'I'm writing a novel'.

'There was a long pause as everyone waited for me to elaborate, but I didn't.'

Girl tells us much about her experiences at the residence, especially about her strange friendship with a young woman artist, Clementine, for whom she sits for a portrait, partly as a way of avoiding writing her novel. Clementine dresses eccentrically and is friendly when they are together but inclined to say hurtful things to and about Girl when they are with others. Girl's feelings for her fluctuate. She loves her in the good times but is confused by her and tried to find excuses for her fickleness and malice.

At other times, Girl tells us about her family and the hard lives they had before migrating to Australia. She remembers growing up with her grandmother, 'a hard. brown-skinned woman of bad temper', whose traumatic past has made her unable to express love except through complaints, rages and beatings and whose 'focus and motivation made the mental and physical discipline of bitterness feel like an athletic feat'.

'She would get so angry with me sometimes that she would scream at me for hours...

It's strange and unnatural to say that unsayable word [love] in Chinese unless you are a crying actress in a soap opera or a pop star with a new single to promote. Love is expressed in Chinese the way poets write about flowers - slantwise, in riddles, in rhymes, coyly... So, it's hard to explain what I mean when I say she loved me - or as she said when she was especially angry at me - she sayang me.'

I had to look up 'sayang', as I did with a few other Chinese words which were not translated or explained by the context in which they appeared. The dictionary offered: saying - 'darling' 'dear', 'babe'.

Towards the end of the residency the scholarship holders are expected to share what they have been working on. Girl finally writes two parts of her novel, which she has called 'Pillar of Salt', because 'I was like Lot's wife - always looking back with a secret longing for a place I could never return to: the past'. Both parts are reproduced in this book together with memories of things her family have told her about their past lives.

'...there are so many memories here, so many layers of memory-making,' Jack said.


'Are you going to send this out? Clementine asked.

"I don't know'.

'I think it would do really well. We need more diverse voices now, It's really important.'

So, as often in her past, Girl feels she is being rewarded for being different. The work she is doing is not a 'trend'; it is not 'hot', she tells them in a moment of rebellion.

'It is not something to be 'supported'. It is something else entirely, something varied and strange and wide-reaching that is entirely about itself and not about you'.

In some ways, Jessica Zhan Mei Yu could be saying this about But The Girl. It is really strange and wide-reaching, so much so that it tends to lose focus. It covers Girl's feelings and thoughts; her travels; her reactions to scholarships, artistic residencies, conferences, and the people involved; the lives of her family; and Girl's deeply personal responses to literary works, especially those of Sylvia Plath, a 'gifted' 'straight A student' with who she identifies, as she does, too, with Plath's character, Esther Greenwood, in The Bell Jar, who was her 'mirror and non fraternal twin' until Esther saw herself in a mirror as 'yellow as a Chinaman' and 'a big smudgy-eyed Chinese woman'.

What interests Girl in Plath' work, as seen through a 'postcolonial lense', is the representation of race in her work, but she had adopted the word 'postcolonial', because it sounded more professional and because 'race' made people awkward. The title of the paper she presents at the conference in London is suitably academic: The Post-critical, the Postcolonial and Plath'; and she is typically sardonic about the questions she receives after presenting it:

'They were questions framed as statements and self-important pontifications on this or that. I wondered how many years I could do this for. Could I grin and bear this until I had gainful employment in my area of study.'

Since Girl's area of study is Plath, her thoughts on Plath's life and work, and about Plath scholarship in general are another strand of this book. At one point she even creates a two-column table listing the characteristics of 'Plath Groupies' and 'Plath Scholars', which illustrates the sharp differences between these groups.

But The Girl is enjoyable, varied and strange. It is a remarkable first novel, and Jessica Zhan Mei Yu writes well, but although Girl is, of course, the focus, her excursions into so many very different places, topics and experiences make the novel, I think, a little too 'wide-reaching'.

The Dictionary People
Sarah Ogilvie
9780593536407, $30.00

Sarah Ogilvie was making a nostalgic visit to the Dictionary archive in the basement of the Oxford University Press. She had worked there as an editor of the Dictionary, so was still able to visit the archive, and what she found as she randomly examined one of its boxes thrilled her:

I don't even remember what was written on the one that I pulled off the shelf, but I noticed that it was lighter than the others. I placed it on the floor and lifted the lid. There, right at the top, was a black book I had never seen before, bound with cream ribbon.

She had discovered a notebook kept by the Dr James Agustus Henry Murray, the third and longest serving editor of the Dictionary. In it Murray had 'meticulously' recorded not just the names and addresses of the volunteers who had contributed to the OED but also many personal details, including births, deaths, marriages, and friendships, the titles of the books they had read, the number of slips they had sent in, and the dates received.

'Finding Dr Murray's address book', writes Ogilvie, 'was one of those moments when everything goes into slow motion... I knew that it was likely that no one else had seen [it] or, if they had, they had not deemed it valuable'. She decided that she could be the first person to track down these 'Dictionary People'. It was 'the kind of research project that scholars can only dream of', and her subsequent 'detective work' lasted for eight years as she found out more about the diverse range of people who helped create the Oxford English Dictionary. Among them were

three murderers, a pornography collector, Karl Marx's daughter, a President of Yale, the inventor of the tennis-net adjuster, a pair of lesbian writers who wrote under a male pen-name, and a cocaine addict found dead in a railway station lavatory.

Most of the contributors to Murray's dictionary work were volunteers who had answered advertisements in various newspapers and journals. They were men and women with a wide range of backgrounds and from a number of different countries. Academics and intellectuals were in the minority; some volunteers had no formal education; some were self-educated; one was a successful Victorian novelist; others fitted their reading into their daily routines. Among the women there were suffragettes and suffragists, wives, mothers and carers.

This international 'crowdsourced' selection of people read books of their choice or books sent to them by Murray, noting any unusual words on 4 x 6 inch slips of paper, together with the title of the book, publication date, page number and the sentence in which the word was used. They bundled up these slips and sent them to Murray, who, with a small group of sub-editors and editorial assistants, sorted them alphabetically into the pigeon-holes which lined the walls of the 'scriptorium' - a grand name for a cold iron shed in which they worked. The slips would then be sorted into chronological order, based on the first printed appearance of the word, and Murray, or a trusted editor, would check each slip for accuracy, provide pronunciation and derivation of the words and include them in the Dictionary.

Some words were rejected. A few of these came from the vast collection of pornography and erotica amassed by Henry Spencer Ashbee, and were omitted to avoid the possibility of OUP being prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act (1857).

Ashbee is one of the more exotic characters whose lives Ogilvie describes.

To the outside world, he was husband to Elizabeth, father of three daughters and a son, a manager of a family business, living in a beautiful house in Bloomsbury, London... In the City he commanded respect for his commercial acumen and success.

He travelled widely, spoke several languages fluently and was elected to various prestigious antiquarian societies in England and overseas, but he had 'started collecting clandestine erotica as a teenager'. Eventually, his collection became so large that he acquired a 'purpose-built bachelor pad' at Grays Inn where 'each Saturday, he invited fellow pornophile friends to gather' and explore it.

Ashbee bequeathed this 'largest collection of erotica in the world' to the British Library, where some of it was burned and the rest, some 900 books, were locked away 'in a secret cabinet labeled 'the Private Case'' and remained inaccessible to the public until the1960s.

The reading and the lives of most other contributors were often just as interesting, if less potentially problematic. As a professional lexicographer, Ogilvie has ordered her chapters from A to Z, moving from 'A for Archaeologist', to 'Z for Zealots', via, for example, 'C for Cannibals', 'H for Hopeless Contributors' and 'N for New Zealanders'. It was not easy, she tells us, to decide between the two in 'V for Vicars (and Vegetarians)'

But in the end, vicars won out through sheer numbers - ministers from Nonconformist chapels, ...along with numerous Church of England vicars and a handful of Roman Catholic priests, were major contributors ...Happily, at least one of the vicars was also a vegetarian.

Rev. Thomas Burditt was not a vegetarian but he spent two years volunteering for Murray, contributing some 8,000 slips, drawn from a wide range of sources including 'the book on station life in New Zealand to seventeenth century English history and poetry' before being found dead in a cupboard of his Baptist chapel by one of his parishioners. He was reported to have been 'suffering from depression of spirits'.

A few others whose mental state became disturbed were prolific, sometimes obsessional, contributors to the Dictionary, like John Dormer, who was committed to a mental asylum at the age of thirty-five. Ogilvie writes that 'it was a combination of the Dictionary work and personal grief that led to his breakdown'.

So what of the murderers? One surprising volunteer, here, was Eadweard Muybridge, who invented the high-speed-shutter technique for photographing the precise movement of a galloping horse and whose work 'led directly to the development of motion pictures'. His wife, Flora, began an affair with a man called Harry Larkyns and when Muybridge discovered this he confronted Larkyns, punched him, and left, thinking that would be the end of the affair. The lovers, however, continued to meet in secret and Flora bore a son that Muybridge believed to be his own. When he discovered otherwise, he hunted down Larkyns:

It was nearly midnight when Muybridge arrived at the door of a cabin where Larkyns was playing cards. He asked for Larkyns, and when he came to the door, Muybridge declared, 'I have brought you a message from my wife.' He shot him at point blank.

One prolific contributor, Dr Fielding Blandford was not a murderer or a lunatic but a psychiatrist who was in charge of the Surrey County Asylum at Brookwood. He pioneered non-restraint treatment of mentally ill patients, but his views on women and female sexuality were much less enlightened. Ogilvie tells in horrifying detail how, in 1895, he was responsible for the brutal abduction and incarceration of a young feminist, Edith Lanchester, who had outraged her brothers by choosing to live, unmarried, with an Irish working-class labourer.

Blandford and Edith's brothers forced their way into the house where the couple were living, dragged Edith to a waiting carriage and drove her to The Priory Private Asylum, where Blandford, claiming that she was committing 'social suicide', recorded her condition as insanity caused by 'over-education'. Only through the intervention of her friend, Eleanor Marx, and other members of the Social Democratic Federation (of which she was a member), was Edith released after four terrifying days.

The lives of some women volunteers certainly proved that over-educating women was not the cause of insanity. Margaret Alice Murray, who became a professional Egyptologist and published 'more than 100 books and articles' on Egyptology, and also 'groundbreaking books on witches', began contributing to the Dictionary from her family's home in Calcutta, then later from England. Typically, Ogilvie, sets the scene:

Margaret had a routine of getting up at sunrise and taking a book to the balustraded, flat roof to read alone in the cool early-morning air. As she read, the smells of the dawning day would drift up to her: incense from the Hindu house servants performing their first devotions, and the pungent odour of spicy jhalmuri (Bengali street food). She underline words in her books to the background noise of the kitchen staff preparing breakfast, the slap of laundry on stone, and the far-off clatter of the street traders, astrologers and chaiwalas (tea sellers) setting up their stalls.

Ogilvie is a fine story-teller and The Dictionary People is full of lively and colourful accounts of these volunteers and of others involved in the making of the Dictionary. She also discusses the workings of the Dictionary, the rivalries with other dictionary-makers (especially those in America), and the strong movement which was current in Murray's time for spelling reform and for the creation of an international language which would unite the world.

It took hundreds of years for English spelling to settle on what it is today. Dictionaries helped with this standardization, and it is therefore no surprise that the push for spelling reform in the nineteenth century came from those within the world of dictionaries. But despite their being advocates for a new spelling system, it was tough to institute any real change.

The attempt to find a universal language, too, ultimately failed. Between 1879 and 1907, over 150 languages were created, including Volapik, Pasilingua, Esperanto '(originally called Lingvo Internacia)', Spelin, Spolik, Mundolingue and Ido. Only Esperanto has survived.

As an overview of dictionaries, and an account of the creation and creators of the OED, The Dictionary People is a very thorough book. At times almost too thorough. Why for example do we need to be told the exact addresses of all the famous people who happened to lived in the same street as contributor, Leslie Stephen, the father of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf? For Ogilvie, however, researching everything to do with the Dictionary people was important and could lead to more fascinating stories. After eight years of searching library archives, official records and registers, personal collections, and visiting anywhere which might reveal more fascinating information, she wrote:

Looking back, I must admit that from the moment I lifted the lid on that dusty box, a little of Murray's zealous and determined energy entered me. I became obsessed with unearthing the lives of the people in his address book and reclaiming their place in the story of the creation of the OED.

She has certainly achieved her goal, and The Dictionary People is a very readable, enjoyable and often surprising book.

Missing Pieces
Jennifer Mackenzie Dunbar
Midnightsun Publishing
9781922858092, $32.99 PB

Directly in front of her, the queen held her hand against her cheek, as if aghast.

'What have you seen?' Marianne whispered, putting her own hand to her face. 'Have you, too, had loved ones taken? Your life turned upside down?'

Marianne, in 2010, is on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland where, in 1831, a cache of seventy-nine delicately carved, walrus ivory, chess pieces was unearthed by Malcolm Macleod (Calum) as he dug a grave in the sand dunes for a dead calf. 'I swear I've no' had a drop' he told his wife, Mhairi, when he ran home in terror, 'I saw them looking at me from below the earth - figures, a three score and more, staring up at me'.

Later, Mhairi boldly faces a group of men (including the Reverend Macleod and six church elders) to argue that these are not devilish icons, but 'gaming pieces', 'Chess', made, she believes, 'from the tusk of the walrus'; and, since they were found on land on which she and her husband are tenants, she and Calum are entitled to sell them.

The men are scornful of this 'foolish woman's fantasy' but Mhairi has proof:

Digging into my pocket, I retrieved the piece I'd brought with me: a queen, ... I felt the mood in the room shift while they passed it around. I watched their staunch, cynical faces change to astonishment and wonder.

One by one, they turned the queen over in their hands. They examined the delicacy of her fingers and she, this noble queen, held her face in disgust at their name calling.

What Mhairi requests is 'a goodly sum' which will pay off their debts and allow them to pay a year's rent in advance. Meanwhile, she and Calum rebury the hoard so that it cannot be taken from them, but only Mhairi sees a second bag of figures as they do this and she keeps this secret to herself.

In Missing Pieces, Jennifer Dunbar tells the rest of the story of Calum and Mhairi and their family, weaving into it the history of the island Clearances which eventually took them to America. She also uses what facts are know about the pieces, to bring to life other women, including Icelandic Magrit the Adroit, who is recorded in the Norse Sagas as the creator of a beautiful, intricately carved, walrus ivory head of a crosier that was made for the Archbishop of Trondheim, and which is now in the Victoria and Albert museum in London.

Dunbar gives Magrit a voice as, in 1190, she is struggling to complete the figures for the four chess sets ('one hundred and twenty-eight pieces in total') that are to be gifts from Icelandic Bishop Jonsson to the bishops of Mann, Scotland, Denmark and Norway.

Viewing some of the completed pieces, Jonsson is critical, then amused. He holds up a mounted knight:

'You have captured Norway's image,' the bishop said, placing the piece back on the table. 'And his pony seems unable to look ahead, short-sighted just like him'.

He turned to me, his look both threatening and curious, 'Your humour has a dangerous edge, Magrit.'

I should have dropped my gaze, but I did not. My troubled childhood had trained me to stare down intimidation.

Magrit tells her story - 'from manure pit to, if not riches, at least survival' - to young Snorri, as she coaches him in the hope that he may be able to help her complete her carvings now that her arthritic hands have made her clumsy. But it is the bishop's wife, Herdis, who hatches a plan with Magrit when the sets are not completed, and whose husband 'knows better than to contradict [her]' when she tells him the sets are packed and cannot be unpacked.

Dunbar imagines a shipwreck, and a foreign sailor tended by the Lewis woman, Morven, to fill in more of the puzzles about the chess pieces and their burial on the island:

Seamus carried the ivory dolls until we could see the old nunnery, the house of the Black Women, from a small nearby hill.

'I will take them from here,' I said. 'The sisters will keep them until I work out what I am meant to do with them'.

Eventually, seventy-eight of the pieces found in 1841 were sold to a private purchaser who donated them to the British Museum (, and ten pieces were bought by the Society of Antiquities and donated to the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh. Current debate circles around reparation, and the desire of the Scots to have all the pieces returned to Scotland. Dunbar makes this a central theme in Missing Pieces, as her character, Marianne, who works at the British Museum, is sent to Lewis to oversee the exhibition of twelve of the pieces in the Museum in the island's capital, Stornoway.

Marianne is the main focus of Missing Pieces. She has just finished her Master of Arts degree on 'Stolen Histories', which examines the cultural significance of reparation of museum exhibits. At her father's suggestion, she had used the Lewis Chessmen as an example in her thesis, since some of her maternal ancestors came from Lewis. The questions she asks the Lewis chess Queen, however, are prompted by her own recent traumatic loss of her father in a hit-and-run accident, which she almost saw, and by her constant thoughts about the baby she gave up when she gave birth at the age of sixteen. She and her mother, Shona, have an uncomfortable relationship, as these losses have become a taboo subject between them, but she impulsively invites Shona to accompany her to Lewis, knowing that her mother is deeply involved with researching family history.

Added to Marianne's troubles, is her sudden discovery that George, who is her temporary supervisor at the British Museum, has plagiarised her MA thesis for his presentation on museum reparation at a recent international conference.

George has ordered her to go to Lewis to oversee the chessmen exhibition, but Marianne suspects his motives. Rightly, since while she is there she suddenly learns that she is suspected of stealing a newly found chess piece that she had been examining and testing before she left London. The piece was a fake, and she had put it and her report in the secure box to which only she and George knew the access code, although she had once seen George's PA clear the box for him. How to prove her innocence seem almost impossible, since George denies ever receiving the secure box.

Marianne's experiences on Lewis, her constant worries and insecurity, her uncertain romantic feelings for Euan, who is in charge of the exhibition, her growing friendship with Agnes, an older islander who is helping with the exhibition, and, specially, the search she and Euan embark on for the unknown site of the chessmen's discovery, all tie Dunbar's story together. The history she and Euan manage to tease out, and their actual search, are exciting, but there is the possibility, too, that they might find one of the forty-nine pieces still missing from the four chess sets. In 2019, a warder (a rook or castle) turned up in a dusty drawer in Edinburgh and fetched 735,000 at a Sotheby's auction.

This search, and the Marianne's difficulty in proving her innocence and exposing George's perfidity, provide interesting tension in the book. Some of the situations are, perhaps, predictable and a little cliched - the wonderfully relaxed and friendly life on Lewis and the rocky nature of the romantic attachments, for example - but Dunbar's imaginative recreation of the women's stories over the centuries, and the real history and beauty of the Lewis Chessmen make Missing Pieces a satisfying read. The issue of museum reparation is thought provoking and is currently very much alive; Dunbar provides a list 'key sources' for the history she includes in the book; and her story did lead me to find out more about the Lewis Chessmen and the 'ongoing impact of the Scottish Clearances' - a hope Dunbar expresses in her 'Author's Note'.

Dr. Ann Skea, Reviewer

Carl Logan's Bookshelf

Don't Tell Mom!: Shenanigans of a Small-Town Kid
Greg Schweiner
Independently Published
9798863723563, $24.99, HC, 276pp

Synopsis: Have you ever watched little boys at play and wondered what the heck is going through their minds?

In Greg Schweiner's personal memoir, "Don't Tell Mom: Shenanigans of a Small-Town Kid", we get to see the world through the eyes of a curious little boy, feeling his pain and joy, sharing in his experiences as we watch him grow up. Along the way, we unwittingly become co-conspirators in his mischiefs and accomplices to his misdeeds.

In this recounting of his life story, Greg Schweiner transports us to a simpler age, before video games and virtual lives -- when kids spent their days outside in the unsupervised real world, with their only directives being to "be back by supper...and don't get your brother killed". When kids were free to be kids. When twenty-five cents and a working bike meant freedom.

"Don't Tell Mom!: Shenanigans of a Small-Town Kid" Take us to a small Midwestern city yesteryear and a portrait of an era now fading into history.

Critique: Compellingly nostalgic, inherently fascinating, quite entertaining, truly memorable, expertly crafted, and throughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "Don't Tell Mom!: Shenanigans of a Small-Town Kid" is an extraordinary story that is both intensely personal while also being universal. "Don't Tell Mom" is one of those life stories that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after it has been finished and set back upon the shelf. All the more impressive when considering that it is Greg Schweiner's debut as an author, "Don't Tell Mom!" is especially and unreservedly recommended for community and college/university library American Biography/Memoir collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Don't Tell Mom!" is also available in a paperback edition (9798863088556, $14.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99).

Editorial Note: Greg Schweiner is a retired businessman, occasional entrepreneur, rock drummer, unemployed actor, hobby journalist, novice writer, avid world traveler, loyal Packers fan, husband, father and grandfather from Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Endangered Species
David Goethel
Peter E. Randall Publisher
9781942155676, $24.95, PB, 304pp

Synopsis: David Goethel is a small boat fisherman (an endangered species in the world of commercial fishing), who works tirelessly for himself and others like him to survive.

With the publication of "Endangered Species: Chronicles of the Life of a New England Fisherman and the F/V Ellen Diane" he has the reader following along on that journey, sea stories and autobiography mixed with twists and turns of science and management as David and his family work relentlessly to feed America sustainable seafood.

For men like David, fishing is not a job; it is a way of life. One that he is determined to maintain by fighting through the storm tossed adversity that nature lays out endlessly, and the new sinister efforts of a modern society who live on land and have no concept of how those at sea ensure their own survival as well as the fish on which they depend.

Reading "Endangered Species" will take readers on a journey through time while demonstrating why some individuals will always be called to work the sea.

Critique: A read that is compelling, fascinating, informative, and thought-provoking from start to finish, "Endangered Species: Chronicles of the Life of a New England Fisherman and the F/V Ellen Diane" is an extraordinary life story that will have particular interest for readers concerned with marine biology and the fishing industry. While especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and college/university library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Endangered Species" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: David Goethel retired from commercial fishing in 2022 and splits his time with his wife, Ellen, and parrots, Huey and Stuart, between Hampton, New Hampshire, and Stuart, Florida. In Stuart, he surf casts for pompano and other species. In Hampton, he fishes recreationally for the wide range of species in the Gulf of Maine. The author remains active in both science and fishery management at both the state and federal level, serving on one council advisory panel and one ASMFC advisory panel. He also serves on two volunteer fishing organizations' boards of directors, helping to promote sustainable fishing practices. David continues to promote cooperative research, scientists and fishermen working on research projects together to aid in solving the many problems that still plague fishery management.

Carl Logan

Clint Travis' Bookshelf

Liar in a Crowded Theater
Jeff Kosseff
The Johns Hopkins University Press
9781421447322, $29.95, HC, 368pp

Synopsis: When commentators and politicians discuss misinformation, they often repeat five words: "fire in a crowded theater." Though governments can, if they choose, attempt to ban harmful lies, propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation, how effective will their efforts really be? Can they punish someone for yelling "fire" in a crowded theater -- and would those lies then have any less impact? How do governments around the world respond to the spread of misinformation, and when should the US government protect the free speech of liars?

With the publication of "Liar in a Crowded Theater: Freedom of Speech in a World of Misinformation", law professor Jeff Kosseff addresses the pervasiveness of lies, the legal protections they enjoy, the harm they cause, and how to combat them. From the COVID-19 pandemic to the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections and the January 6, 2021, insurrection on the Capitol building, Professor Kosseff argues that even though lies can inflict huge damage, US law should continue to protect them. "Liar in a Crowded Theater" explores both the history of protected falsehoods and where to go from here.

Drawing on years of research and thousands of pages of court documents in dozens of cases ranging from Alexander Hamilton's enduring defense of free speech to Eminem's victory in a lawsuit claiming that he stretched the truth in a 1999 song, Professor Kosseff illustrates not only why courts are reluctant to be the arbiters of truth but also why they're uniquely unsuited to that role. Rather than resorting to regulating speech and fining or jailing speakers, he proposes solutions that focus on minimizing the harms of misinformation. If we want to seriously address concerns about misinformation and other false speech, we must finally exit the crowded theater.

Critique: Freedom has a cost -- and that cost can (and often is) be paid out in human lives lost. When the ACLU defended the Nazi march through an Illinois neighborhood on the grounds of their having a Constitutional right of Freedom of Speech, the ACLU, the primary organization in the defense of the right to speak freely, even if that speech was abhorrent, suffered a major drop in membership and the significant loss of financial donations to support their work. Those disastrous consequences might well have been substantially mitigated if Professor Jeff Kosseff's "Liar in a Crowded Theater: Freedom of Speech in a World of Misinformation" had been available back then.

Well constructed, well written, thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, "Liar in a Crowded Theater: Freedom of Speech in a World of Misinformation" will prove of special value to readers with an interest in free speech, political propaganda and psychology, political commentary and constitutional analysis. While unreservedly recommended for professional, community, and college/university library Political Science collections and supplemental Constitutional Studies curriculum studies lists, it should be noted for students, academia, political activists, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Liar in a Crowded Theater: Freedom of Speech in a World of Misinformation" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $28.45).

Editorial Note: Jeff Kosseff ( is an Associate Professor of Cybersecurity Law at the United States Naval Academy. He advocates that "If we want to seriously address concerns about misinformation and other false speech, we must finally exit the crowded theater."

Point Zero
Seicho Matsumoto, author
Louise Heal Kawal, translator
Bitter Lemon Press
9781913394936, $16.95, PB, 320pp

Synopsis: Tokyo 1958, Teiko marries Kenichi Uhara, ten years her senior, an advertising man recommended by an intermediary. After a four-day honeymoon, Kenichi vanishes. Teiko travels to the coastal and snow-bound city of Kanazawa, where Kenichi was last seen, to investigate his disappearance.

She discovers he had been a police officer in Tokyo after the war, keeping watch over pan pan girls, Japanese prostitutes catering to GIs. Some of these women have created a new life in Kanazawa and may have taken extreme measures to hide their past.

Critique: A beautifully written mystery novel that takes on the taboo of Japanese prostitution catering to GIs during the American post-war occupation by the late master crime novelist Seicho Matsumoto, "Point Zero" is a literary masterpiece and brought to an appreciative American readership through the impressive translation into English by Louis Heal Kawal. Of immense interest to fans of women sleuths and international mysteries, "Point Zero" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, community and college/university library Mystery/Suspense collections. It should be noted that "Point Zero" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99).

Editorial Note #1: Seich? Matsumoto (1909-1982) was Japan's most successful mystery writer. His first detective novel, Points and Lines, sold over a million copies in Japan. Vessel of Sand, published in English as Inspector Imanishi Investigates in 1989, sold over four million copies and became a movie box-office hit. Bitter Lemon published his novel A Quiet Place in 2016.

Editorial Note #2: Louise Heal Kawai comes from Manchester. She has spent the past twenty years in Japan. Her translations include Daido Tamaki's Milk, Tendo Shoko's best-selling autobiography Yakuza Moon, and for Bitter Lemon, Matsumoto's A Quiet Place. (

Libertas Press

Connor Boyack is president of Libertas Institute, a libertarian, free market think tank that embraces traditional family values. He is best known for The Tuttle Twins books, a children's series introducing young readers to economic, political, and civic principles. He is also executive producer of the Tuttle Twins animated cartoon series. Libertas Press has now published three books for young readers by Connor Boyack in their 'The Tuttle Twins Guide' series:

"The Tuttle Twins Guide To Inspiring Entrepreneurs" (9781943521531, $14.99, HC, 175pp)

Throughout history, a certain few people have made risky decisions in an attempt to solve a problem that many people were experiencing, hoping that their new innovation or invention would be able to serve these people and that they - the entrepreneurs, as we call them - would be able to profit in return.

These risk-takers are the key drivers of the economy who create jobs and new products and services that make our lives more comfortable and convenient. The world becomes a better place through their efforts.

But entrepreneurs don't always succeed. Indeed, their failures teach them powerful (and sometimes hard) lessons that they can learn from. They gain knowledge with each new attempt that makes their future efforts even more fruitful. Their stories can serve as inspiration as you begin to determine your own path in life and whether being an entrepreneur is part of your journey.

"The Tuttle Twins Guide to: Logical Fallacies" (9781943521524, $14.99, HC, 193pp)

In a society where countless ideas are being shared, debated, and analyzed, it's more important than ever to sift out the good ones from among the bad ones. And when people you respect and trust use arguments that sound persuasive, how can you determine if they are correct?

One of the most commonly used methods of spreading misinformation is the use of a logical fallacy - a bad argument that makes something seem truthful that actually might not be. These types of arguments are used repeatedly, and there are many different types.

Fortunately, these logical fallacies can be learned, so they can be avoided. Armed with this information, you'll be equipped to understand when people are sharing an idea that is wrong or making a claim that isn't true. You'll become an expert debater by being able to point out a flaw in an opponent's argument.

That makes this book dangerous - a guidebook for teenagers and young adults who want to explore the ins and outs of how to win arguments and point out problems in others' ideas. Use this book wisely!

"The Tuttle Twins Guide to Modern Villains" (9798885880007, $14.99, HC, 263pp)

What is it about human nature that leads some people to commit unspeakably evil acts? And, perhaps a more important question for each of us, why do so many people submit to or even support these villains?

World history sadly offers us a long list of dictators and totalitarian thugs who used their power to steal from and oppress their countrymen -- and kill those who defied them.

As tragic as these stories all are, they can still offer us lessons to learn from if we try to understand why these people acted the way they did -- both those in control and those who were controlled.

These lessons may just have the key we need to help make sure the list of future villains is far shorter than the list in this book.

Critique: Exceptionally well written and thoroughly 'kid friendly' in tone, organization, and presentation, Each of these 'Tuttle Twins Guides' is a timely (and yet timeless) study that is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to highschool and community library Contemporary Social & Economic Issues collections and curriculums for young readers ages 15-18.

Clint Travis

Gregory Stephenson's Bookshelf

The Herbert Huncke Festschrift Project
Compiled and edited by V.J. Eaton
Published by Rene van der Voort, Counter Culture Chronicles
9798892694995, $TBA

By all accounts, Herbert Huncke was a natural born strory teller, a raconteur of rare talent with a substantial store of fascinating yarns, reminiscences drawn from a life lived in realms of the forbidden and the felonious. His influence on Beat writers has long been acknowledged, and his presence as a figure in Beat Generation writings well-documented, while his own sharply etched, hard-edged writings have tended to be somewhat neglected by readers and scholars alike. Serving to mitigate his relative marginality among other Beat figures, however, was Hilary Holladay's biography of Huncke, American Hipster (2013.) And now, to be published in early 2024, there is The Huncke Festschrifit Project compiled and edited by V.J. Eaton, a volume of interviews and reminiscences, together with reproductions of original (previously inaccessible) newspaper reports recounting Huncke's criminal deeds, a gathering of independent yet ultimately inter-connected materials that together provide a much enhanced understanding and appreciation of this complex, solitary, singular man.

The festschrift consists of 21 essays and interviews, illuminating Huncke's erratic life as an addict, a thief, a hustler, a merchant seaman, a convict and a gifted writer and raconteur. Contributors include scholars (Gerald Nicosia, Ann Charters, Hilary Holladay) publisher, Kit Knight (of unspeakable visions of the individual) as well as many formerly overlooked or forgotten friends of Huncke. These latter consist of people within Huncke's circle - many of whom were fellow residents of the Chelsea Hotel - previously unknown to or ignored by those interested in Huncke's life story. These accounts are a real coup. And, finally, there are insightful reminiscences by those who knew Huncke well, such as Raymond Foye and Jerome Poynton.

This gathering of personal testimonies and perspectives not only adds much significant and substantive material, including little known or previously unknown events and dates in Huncke's life, but, at the same time, corrects widely-circulated misinformation. Of particular note, in this regard, are the accurate dates of Huncke's prison sentences, and the actual name of "the Detroit Redhead" (Priscilla Arminger not Vicki Russell, as commonly stated) who was present with a young Allen Ginsberg when the car - filled with stolen goods and driven by small-time hood Jack Melody - in which they were passengers crashed and rolled during an attempt to evade the police.

Other highlights of the volume are the discovery - indeed, the uncovery - by the editor of a partially fictionalized account of a suicide attempt that Huncke made in Soller, Mallorca, memorialized in a poem by R'lene Dahlberg, and a vivid, personal account of "the Dannemora Bust," Huncke's most legendary heist and arrest. This latter piece is a tragi-comic gem, a bleakly funny, brilliant specimen of the storyteller's impromptu art, transcribed and edited by V.J. Eaton from taped recordings of conversations between Herbert Huncke and Arthur Knight (co-editor/publisher of unspeakable visions of the individual.) For this compelling piece alone, the collection would be well worth having.

Clearly, Huncke was hardly a model of virtue, yet these interviews with and recollections by friends and acquaintances, editors and scholars, often accentuate his empathy and generosity, his tolerance and lack of vindictiveness or malice. Moreover, Huncke was, in the parlance of the criminal underworld, "a stand-up guy," one who declined either to inform on accomplices or to entrap or implicate others in order to receive reduced charges or sentencing. (We learn, for example, that Huncke rejected offers by the police to plant drugs on the premises of Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, in return for leniency with regard to his own criminal offences.) In this regard, William Burroughs is cited as having observed that in refusing to co-operate with law enforcement and thereby keeping his friends and accomplices safe from prosecution, Huncke was adhering the traditional, unwritten criminal code of conduct. (The same code extolled by Burroughs in the preface to his early novel, Junkie.) Certain correspondences between Huncke and the French writer, Jean Genet, may be seen (homosexuality, imprisonment for theft, an autodidactic education, life as an outcast, literary ability, autobiographical themes) but ultimately, both in style and in spirit, the two writers are more dissimilar than alike. A fundamental unlikeness - to name but one - is that the character of Huncke's compassion is without ideological stamp.

Whether or not you are familiar with Herbert Huncke's writings or with the outline of his life, this compilation of new materials will be of interest and value to you. The Huncke Festschrift Project is eminently readable and informative, and deserves the attention of anyone interested in the lives and literature of the Beat Generation. Indeed, readers altogether unacquainted with the Beats and their writings might well find this handsomely produced volume engaging and a suitable introduction to the seminal postwar literary and social phenomenon of the Beat Generation.

Gregory Stephenson

Jack Mason's Bookshelf

Case Studies in Spiritual Coaching: A Survey Across Life, Wellness, and Work Domains
DeeAnna Merz Nagel, editor
Madison Leigh Akridge, editor
Charles C. Thomas, Publisher
9780398094201, $41.95, PB, 276pp

Synopsis: Collaborative compiled and co-edited by DeeAnna Marz Nagel and Madison Leigh Akridge, the contributions comprising "Case Studies in Spiritual Coaching: A Survey Across Life, Wellness, and Work Domains" address a major problem in teaching and informing practitioners and trainees about the application of spirituality within the field of coaching. Its purpose is to inform the coaching profession about how spirituality is being utilized by various coaches across the life, wellness, and executive coach domains.

The goals are to provide definitions, applications, ethical considerations, and speculation on the future of the profession on a wide range of applications. The content of the book will be a succinct series of case studies while providing cutting-edge tools and interventions for the coaching profession. Both editors are certified coaches as well as licensed mental health practitioners in the counseling and social work fields. The goal of "Case Studies in Spiritual Coaching" is to offer guidance for the coach whose client brings direct or indirect spiritual content into the coaching session. Each chapter highlights established coach skills such as active listening, powerful questioning, and goal setting.

The text also brings together both seasoned spiritual coaches who have influenced this new and growing area coaching profession, and new spiritual coaches who bring their own diverse knowledge. The contributors describe their work in a diverse array of case studies, with their wide range of backgrounds and approaches, so that others can learn.

"Case Studies in Spiritual Coaching" can be used as a primary text for courses that teach spiritual or intuitive coaching and/or courses that teach any coaching domain such as life coaching, wellness coaching, or executive coaching. It may also be used as an adjunct text for courses that include an introduction to spirituality within the coaching profession.

Critique: unreservedly endorsed for personal, professional, and college/university library Psychology & Religious Counseling collections, and comprised of twenty-eight exceptionally erudite and impressively informative articles, which are further enhanced for the reader with the addition of a two page Name Index, a seven page Subject Index, and a complete listing of the contributors and their credentials, "Case Studies in Spiritual Coaching: A Survey Across Life, Wellness, and Work Domains" will prove of particular value to readers with an interest in psychotherapy and religious counseling.

Editorial Note #1: Madison Leigh Akridge, DTh, LCSW, BCC, CIHC, is a licensed psychotherapist, board certified coach, writer and educator. Madison is also a Reiki Master-Teacher and Intuitive with training and certifications in an array of healing modalities. Some of these modalities include: Essential Soul Care (R), Poetic Self-Expression (Haiku as Meditation), Intuitive Wellness and Reiki Energy Balance. Madison uses a variety of intuitive tools in her work, such as Guided Visualization/Journeying, Labyrinths, Oracle Cards, Crystals, Dowsing, Reiki, Essential Oils, and Earthing. Madison's passion is exploring and removing energetic and creative blocks, establishing and navigating the soul path, and expanding life purpose.

Editorial Note #2: Dr. DeeAnna Merz Nagel, LMHC, CIHC, BCC is a former psychotherapist turned coach and spiritual teacher. Among other topics, she teaches helping professionals about alternative approaches to health and wellness and how to deliver these services ethically, whether in-person or via distance technology. She is considered a thought leader on the delivery of online therapy and coaching as well as distant healing. In addition to her coaching credentials and licenses to practice mental health counseling, DeeAnna holds several certifications in the healing arts including Reiki and aromatherapy. DeeAnna's doctoral studies focused on multifaith spiritual direction.

Bipolar General
Maj. Gen. Gregg F. Martin, USA (Ret.)
Naval Institute Press
9781682479186, $27.00, HC, 288pp

Synopsis: Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin cut a striking figure in the Army: athletic, quick witted, devout, and studious, he was a natural leader. Thanks to his engineering and leadership knowhow, Martin was chosen to lead the thousands of combat engineers who paved the way for 100,000 Army troops to battle their way to Baghdad in 2003.

Martin was astonishing to watch as he led this effort, his mind laser focused and body vibrating with energy. He made quick decisions, often anticipating and solving problems before orders came down. Only years later would he learn how the pressure of organizing dozens of simultaneous life-or-death missions each day altered the biochemistry of his brain.

Since adolescence he'd had what psychiatrists call a 'hyperthymic personality' -- an exceptionally positive, energetic, and can-do disposition. But the Iraq War triggered what military and Veterans Administration psychiatrists ultimately diagnosed as late-onset bipolar disorder, a chemical imbalance that sends sufferers whipsawing between grandiose imaginings and suicidal depressions. His increasing erratic behavior led to his forced resignation as president of the National Defense University and ended his military career.

With the publication of "Bipolar General: My Forever War with Mental Illness", Gregg Martin offers a candid account of his personal journey with undiagnosed mental illness as he rose through the ranks of the U.S. Army. He also provides a first-hand look at the various treatments available for bipolar disorder ranging from powerful medications to electroconvulsive therapy. He discusses why his condition went undiagnosed for so long and explores what can be done both within and outside the armed forces to diagnose and treat mental illness.

Critique: Exceptionally informative, impressively candid, inherently interesting, and exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Bipolar General: My Forever War with Mental Illness" will prove to be of immense value and interest to readers having to deal with mental illness, as well as to their family, friends, and caregivers wanting to be of help and assistance to them. While especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and college/university library American Biography/Memoir collections, it should be noted that "Bipolar General: My Forever War with Mental Illness" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $14.85).

Editorial Note: Gregg F. Martin, PhD, Major General, US Army (Retired), served on active duty for thirty-six years and commanded an engineer company, battalion, and the 130th Engineer Brigade in combat during the first year of the Iraq War. General Martin served multiple overseas tours, commanded the Corps of Engineers Northwest Division, was Commandant of the Army Engineer School, commanded Fort Leonard Wood, was Deputy Commanding General of Third US Army/Army Central in the Middle East, Commandant of the Army War College, President of the National Defense University, and Special Assistant to the Chief of Engineers. Martin holds a PhD and two master's degrees from MIT, master's degrees in national security strategy from both the Army and Naval war colleges, and a bachelor's degree from West Point.

Jack Mason

John Burroughs' Bookshelf

This Troubled Ground
Les Carroll
Koehler Books
9798888240892, $24.95, HC, 206pp

Synopsis: The war in Afghanistan impacted Americans in profound ways, yet only a small percentage of Americans know what it was like to be there, fight there, what it was like come home from there, and and what it is like to then live the rest of their lives wondering if their service made a difference.

With the publication of "This Troubled Ground", Les Carroll goes there -- to the cold, dark, and heartbreaking tarmac at Dover Air Force Base, to the Kabul newsrooms, to briefing rooms, and to the deadly battlefields in their many forms across Afghanistan.

Inspired by true events, "This Troubled Ground" follows a haunting, sometimes uplifting but ultimately tragic journey into war through the eyes of an Air Force officer searching for meaning as his path intersects with a mother's desperate quest to find hope after her son is killed serving with the US Marines in Afghanistan.

Critique: A stellar work of deftly crafted biographical fiction, "This Troubled Ground" by novelist Les Carroll will have a very special appeal to readers with an interest in war fiction in general, and the impact that the war in Afghanistan had (and in a great many cases) continues to have of the emotions and memories of those Americans that fought and risked their lives there. Who survived and had comrades die there. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community and college/university library Historical Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "This Troubled Ground" is also available in a paperback edition (9798888240878, $16.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.49).

Editorial Note: Les Carroll ( grew up in South Carolina, served in the Air Force and Air National Guard for twenty-eight years, and retired in 2013. He served two tours in Afghanistan and one tour at the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center at Dover Air Force Base. "This Troubled Ground" was created out of those experiences. He is an award-winning military and civilian journalist and acclaimed documentary filmmaker. His documentary Bringing the Fallen Home aired nationally in 2014. He wrote and published three books in the mid-1990s.

The Final Witness
Paul Landis
Chicago Review Press
9781641609449, $30.00, HC, 240pp

Synopsis: Dallas, Texas. November 22, 1963. Shots ring out at Dealey Plaza. The president is struck in the head by a rifle bullet. Confusion reigns.

Special Agent Paul Landis is in the follow-up car directly behind JFK's and is at the president's limo as soon as it stops at Parkland Memorial Hospital. He is inside Trauma Room #1, where the president is pronounced dead. He is on Air Force One with the president's casket on the flight back to Washington, DC; an eyewitness to Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office.

What he saw is indelibly imprinted upon his psyche. He writes and files his report. And yet . . . Agent Landis is never called to testify to the Warren Commission. The one person who could have supplied key answers is never asked questions.

By mid-1964, the nightmares from Dallas remain, and he resigns. It isn't until the fiftieth anniversary that he begins to talk about it, and he reads his first books on the assassination.
Landis learns about the raging conspiracy theories -- and realizes where they all go wrong.

Critique: An inherently fascinating, memorable, and thought-provoking read from start to finish, "The Final Witness: A Kennedy Secret Service Agent Breaks His Silence After Sixty Years" by Paul Landis must be considered as essential reading for anyone with an interest in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community and college/university library Kennedy Assassination collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "The Final Witness" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

Editorial Note: Paul Landis was a twenty-eight-year-old Secret Service agent in President Kennedy's Dallas motorcade on November 22, 1963. Though he was a witness to the events that day, he was never interviewed by the Warren Commission, and has kept his recollections private until now, including details surrounding a key piece of evidence.

John Burroughs

John Morrow's Bookshelf

Slavery & Islam
Jonathan A. C. Brown
Oneworld Academic
9781786076359, $40.00 HC, $27.00 PB, $19.99 Kindle, 448pp

In Slavery & Islam, Dr. Jonathan A.C. Brown, the Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization at Georgetown University, devotes over four hundred pages to support his conviction that slavery and concubinage are permissible according to the Qur'an and the teachings and practice of the Prophet Muhammad (570-632) (2020: 70, 96). He is adamant that God and His Messenger allowed, condoned, and supported them (2020: 7, 9, 202). In his words, "the permissibility of slavery and concubinage is undeniable in the Qur'an" (Brown 2020: 196).

Rather than abolish sexual slavery, Brown asserts that Muslim jurists embraced the practice fully and took it to its maximum (2020: 81, 82). He admits that "the number of concubines taken by Muslims jumped dramatically with the early Islamic conquests" (Brown 2020: 114). Brown also stresses that, in Islamic law, "consent for sexual relations was assumed or irrelevant" (2020: 96, 281). Not only does he argue that sex slaves played a central role in Arab and Ottoman slavery, but he goes as far as to trivialize the age of consent (2020: 278-281). Moreover, he argues that freedom is not a fundamental human right in Islamic law (Brown 2020: 299-302; Clarence-Smith 2006: 22) and treats serial polygamists, who had hundreds of sex slaves, as moral exemplars (Brown 2020: 82).

Brown equates opposition to the institution of slavery and sexual servitude as opposition to the Messenger of God (2020: 196, 199-200). He considers those who oppose slavery but refuse to condemn the Prophet to be hypocrites (Brown 2020: 96). When faced with dissenting views on the disputed subject of the legitimacy of slavery in Islam, Brown's strategy is to respond with a loaded trick question and a theological trap: "Did the Prophet Muhammad commit a grave moral wrong?" (2020: 196). For Brown, a Muslim does not remain a Muslim if he or she answers in the affirmative. Consequently, he provides a jurisprudential justification for the practice of takfir, namely, the ex-communication of so-called heretics and apostates (Brown 2020: 198, 393, note 205; 405), and provides ample evidence that Muslims have a long history of enslaving other Muslims who do not share their ideology (Brown 2020: 106-109; 303-307; 370: note 24; 406, note 31 and 32; see also Clarence-Smith 42-45).

Brown may claim to believe that "slavery is wrong," however, he makes an important disclaimer: "as a Muslim myself, I cannot condemn it as grossly, intrinsically immoral across space and time. To do so would be to condemn the Qur'an, the Prophet Muhammad and God's law as morally compromised" (275). However, rather than support Islamic abolitionists, he assumes the role of the Devil's Advocate, devoting an inordinate amount of time in his book to dismissing, debunking, and repudiating their arguments as violating the Qur'an, the sunnah, and the shari'ah. If one rejects the views of Muslim scholars who spurn slavery, is one an opponent or supporter of this evil and abominable institution? In fact, Brown wonders whether slavery is in the DNA of Islam (204). In his words, "we cannot pretend it is not part of our religion" (Brown 4).

Brown's entire work is an ideological defense of Slave Master Islam. That it comes from a white American Muslim is even more abhorrent. This is the product of a conscious choice. His work is not simply a survey of historical opinions on the permissibility of enslavement, human bondage, sexual captivity, subjugation, and violation. It is a validation of those views. Alternative interpretations of Islam, which are abolitionist and emancipatory, are amply available. He is perfectly familiar with their arguments and evidence, namely, that sexual relations are only permissible in wedlock and that the Prophet Muhammad reportedly stated that slave traders were the worst human beings (Brown 392, note 199; 237). Brown, however, has deliberately decided to denounce them.

The fact remains that there is not a single verse in the Qur'an that commands slavery. The verses that touch upon the topic are descriptive. They deal with a temporal socio-economic reality. Slavery is neither an article of faith nor is it a religious obligation. In fact, the Qur'an encourages and even requires Muslims to emancipate enslaved people (2:177; 47:4, 24:33). As far as the exponents of Islam's spiritual, moral, ethical, and egalitarian tradition are concerned, the Qur'an, the Prophet, and Islam introduced a system that would reform the practice of slavery and abolish it entirely and forever. Rather than select the sharp and narrow path, Brown has selected the wide and shallow one of the classical Islamic status quo. And since he likes to confront critics with a question, this review ends with a question, not of my own, by one that God poses in the Qur'an: "What will make you know what the steep path is? It is the freeing of a slave" (90:12-13).

Dr. John Andrew Morrow

Julie Summers' Bookshelf

Create Your Own Cozy
Liz Marie Galvan
Thomas Nelson Publishers
9781400243532, $24.99, HC, 224pp

Synopsis: Now with the publication of "Create Your Own Cozy: 100 Practical Ways to Love Your Home and Life" you can bring peace, calm, and beauty into your life and your home as you journey with popular blogger and author Liz Marie Galvan.

Beautifully interactive, "Create Your Own Cozy: 100 Practical Ways to Love Your Home and Life" offers: Ideas to make your home and life cozier - from personal routines to easy and affordable ways to make any space feel comfortable; Cozy home tips, garden ideas, and easy gathering suggestions; Stunning photography and captivating original art; Space to record room dimensions, paint colors, shopping lists, project plans, and monthly checklists to keep your home running smoothly.

"Create Your Own Cozy: 100 Practical Ways to Love Your Home and Life" will prove to be of immense interest to readers seeking: Inspiration for attractive and flexible home spaces for exercising, home offices, and functional family areas; How they can repurpose decor, incorporate clean household products, and live more sustainably; A gift for first-time home buyers, newlyweds, housewarmings (for buyers, renters, and fixer-uppers), or anyone looking to track their home-improvement projects; Encouragement to share their home with others.

A beautiful companion to Liz's bestselling Cozy White Cottage and Cozy White Cottage Seasons, "Create Your Own Cozy: 100 Practical Ways to Love Your Home and Life" inspirational guide invites you to embrace the home you have, put your heart into meaningful improvements, and develop rhythms and routines that make your home and your heart a place of coziness, connection, and rest.

Critique: Exceptionally well written, organized, illustrated, and presented, "Create Your Own Cozy: 100 Practical Ways to Love Your Home and Life" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99) and an unreservedly recommended pick for interior design/maintenance, and home decorating instructional reference and ideas collections.

Editorial Note: Liz Marie Galvan ( is a blogger, interior designer, and co-owner of the vintage home decor boutique The Found Cottage. Each month, hundreds of thousands of readers find design inspiration and DIY ideas at Liz and her veteran husband, Jose, live in an 1800s farmhouse in Michigan with their dogs, cats, sheep, and rams. Learn more about their farmhouse renovation at their website, The White Cottage Farm. Liz has been featured on the Today Show, in Better Homes and Gardens and Country Living and has collaborated with Behr, Magnolia Home Paint, Kilz, Home Depot, TJ Maxx/HomeGoods, Home Depot, GMC, and HGTV.

Sexy Strangers: Erotic Stories
Rachel Kramer Bussel
Cleis Press
9781627783293, $18.95, PB, 268pp

Synopsis: Have you ever looked across a crowded room, locked eyes with someone you don't know, and immediately undressed them in your mind? Then "Sexy Strangers: Erotic Stories", compiled and edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel, is the book for you!

Comprised of 19 erotic stories that have bottled that dazzling, frenetic energy and undeniable chemistry associated with an instant lust connection, the characters you will encounter don't need to know each other's names to know desire is demanding; their needs won't be slaked until they're pressed up against the person who whips them into a frenzy.

From mysterious neighbors and bar guests to unbeknownst competitors, these strangers instantaneously give in to their passion, strip down, and bare all. Whether it's at the roller rink, the beach, a sex club or the library, these lustful leads can be found getting it on anywhere, anytime.

Edited by the award-winning Rachel Kramer Bussel, with stories by Suleikha Snyder, Kate Sloan, Dr. J., Oleander Plume and more, these sizzling encounters are hot, dirty, and sure to get you off!

Critique: Eroticism is a quality that causes sexual feelings, as well as a philosophical contemplation concerning the aesthetics of sexual desire, sensuality, and romantic love. That quality may be found in any form of artwork, including painting, sculpture, photography, drama, film, music, or literature. The term may also refer to a state of sexual arousal or anticipation of such in the form of an insistent sexual impulse, desire, or pattern of thoughts. (Wikipedia)

"Sexy Strangers: Erotic Stories is a memorable and highly recommended anthology of deftly crafted, entertaining, and original short stories by authors who successfully provide a literary exploration of the allure of sex with a stranger. For mature readers only, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Sexy Strangers: Erotic Stories" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $13.49).

Editorial Note: Rachel Kramer Bussel ( is a writer, editor, event organizer, and erotica writing instructor. She's edited over 70 anthologies, including The Big Book of Orgasms, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, Dirty Dates, On Fire, Spanked, Please, Sir, and Please, Ma'am, and is the Best Women's Erotica of the Year series editor. Her nonfiction has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Marie Claire, O, The Oprah Magazine,, Salon, Slate,, The Village Voice and numerous other publications. Follow her @raquelita on Twitter and learn more about her writing workshops and consulting at

Imagine More: Do What You Love, Discover Your Potential
Stephanie Nelson
Thomas Nelson Publishers
9781400244010, $19.99, PB, 240pp

Synopsis: If you feel stuck in life and unable to make progress toward your deepest hopes and dreams, let Stephanie Nelson share a practical path to reaching your full potential. The creator of the Coupon Mom and jump-starter of the coupon craze that started in 2008 with the recession, Stephanie can relate to holding on to dreams that seem bigger than abilities. She started the Coupon Mom website with a thirty-five dollar investment and never borrowed or spent more than the project earned. With no extra money or experience in technology, Stephanie grew a tiny website into a multimillion-dollar business that has helped millions of people save money and donate groceries to charities, all while using the free Coupon Mom program.

Sharing her story to unpack life lessons, with the publication of "Imagine More: Do What You Love, Discover Your Potential", Stephanie shares a path to: Banishing fear and embracing opportunity; Developing a vision and pursuing dreams; Identifying God's plan to use your abilities to help others; Building community by including others in your success.

The message of "Imagine More" is that it is never too late to imagine more, chase your dreams, and impact the world through your unique gifts and talents; Stephanie shows her readers just how to exchange their ordinary for God's extraordinary. "Imagine More" will encourage anyone who wants to use their passions and skills to benefit others and fulfill their most cherished dreams.

Critique: Inspired and inspiring, "Imagine More: Do What You Love, Discover Your Potential" is a life altering, life improving, life celebrating book that is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, community, and college/university library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections. It should be noted that "Imagine More: Do What You Love, Discover Your Potential" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $12.99).

Editorial Note: Stephanie Nelson ( is the founder of the Coupon Mom website, which launched the coupon movement that took America by storm in 2008. As a savings expert, Stephanie has appeared on many national and local television news shows, including Good Morning America, the Today show, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Her entrepreneurial Coupon Mom concept started a national cottage industry of other "coupon moms," as she inspired women to start profitable websites in their communities. Her book The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half was a New York Times bestseller. Stephanie currently hosts her podcast, Pivotal People.

Julie Summers

K.C. Finn's Bookshelf

Overcoming the Emotional Stigmas of Infertility: Barren But Not Ashamed
Frances Jones
Heart Desires Fulfillment Press
978173563400, 21.95 PB, $9.99 Kindle, 154pp

"Overcoming the Emotional Stigmas of Infertility - Barren But Not Ashamed is a work of non-fiction in the self-help genre. It is aimed at adult readers and was penned by Frances Jones. The book describes the emotional journey that comes with infertility of any sort. Feelings of guilt or inadequacy, feelings of failure or being lesser than others, all of these feelings and more are addressed in this book in an empathetic approach to discussing the mental and emotional toll of struggling to conceive. Based on the author's own experiences, the book aims to guide and inspire others who are struggling with their feelings and self-perception in the wake of fertility struggles.

This is a powerful book not only for the highly emotive and stigmatized subject matter that it discusses but for the deeply personal experiences and insights that the author shares throughout. Using her own experience of infertility to support the reader in their emotional journey, Frances Jones creates a unique connection between herself and her readers. As infertility is a situation that people struggle to open up about, this book is an essential resource for providing the insightful and considered support that is sorely needed. Overcoming the Emotional Stigmas of Infertility is a book that knows it has its work cut out for it in a world surrounded by imagery and narratives that link producing children to being happy, successful, and valid. Someone who cannot have their own children can easily slide down a rabbit hole of depression and low self-worth. This book rises to the challenge, however, and is a must for couples struggling with infertility as well as professionals who support them".

K.C. Finn

Margaret Lane's Bookshelf

Fortuna: The Sacred and Profane Faces of Luck
Nigel Pennick
Destiny Books
Inner Traditions International, Ltd.
9781644116470, $16.99, PB, 144pp

Synopsis: Some believe that our future is predetermined, while others assert that we have free will and our future can take many different courses depending on our actions. In ancient times, it was believed that the will of the gods determined people's lives, and divination or sacrifices to the gods could change or improve one's future. Of the deities devoted to luck and the future, the Roman goddess Fortuna is most famous, having two shrines in Italy where divination was conducted under her guardianship.

Tracing the history of the culture of good fortune from sacred divination to profane gambling, with the publication of "Fortuna: The Sacred and Profane Faces of Luck", Nigel Pennick explores the many ways people through the centuries have sought to divine the future, ensure protection, and draw the full benefits from days of good omen. He shows how dice were originally considered sacred objects of divination and reveals the divinatory geomancy techniques and meanings of a dice oracle.

In addition to dice, Pennick looks at how cowrie shells, bones, coins, cards, sticks, and stones can be used to form meaningful patterns for interpretation and how these cultural divination practices were often accompanied by texts or oral traditions that explained the meanings of the patterns, such as the Chinese I Ching and the West African verses of the Sixteen Cowries. He also looks at medieval grimoires for fortune-telling, lottery books, and dice books.

Exploring how dice became a means of gaming and gambling, Pennick details the forms of trickery and "crooked dice" used in games of craps by cheating gamblers and the Dream Books or Policy Books that served as oracles for those who played the "Numbers Racket." He examines how gambling gave rise to specialized lucky charms, luck-ensuring rituals, and even mascots. He also explores the emergence of ideas of randomness as they relate to divination and magic.

Revealing how divination and gambling are two sides of the same coin, Pennick shows how, whether you are a gambler relying on Lady Luck or a diviner querying the gods, we are all looking to Fortuna in the quest for a better, richer life.

Critique: As informative as it is fascinating, "Fortuna: The Sacred and Profane Faces of Luck" is an extraordinary study that will have a particular value to readers with an interest in the history of divination, of the folklore, mythology, and concept of luck in life and in gambling. While an exceptional and well written study that is highly recommended for personal, community, and college/university library collections, it should be noted that "Fortuna: The Sacred and Profane Faces of Luck" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

Editorial Note: Nigel Pennick is an authority on ancient belief systems, traditions, runes, and geomancy and has traveled and lectured extensively in Europe and the United States. He is the author and illustrator of more than 60 books, including The Pagan Book of Days. The founder of the Institute of Geomantic Research, he lives near Cambridge, England.

Draw and Discover: An Art-Making Journal for Kids
Caren Sacks
Collective Book Studio
9781685559021, $18.95, HC, 128pp

Synopsis: Making art is not only enjoyable for children but significant in their emotional, cognitive, and social development. "Draw and Discover: An Art-Making Journal for Kids" by Caren Sacks contains 60 carefully created prompts to help children become aware of their feelings, name them, express them and pay attention to the physical sensations that accompany them.

The journal gives children a safe place to explore on their own and invites them to share their work with trusted adults in their lives. The journal also contains a section for adults that addresses the process of making art with children and best practices for how to respond when a child shares their art and tells their story. This sharing opens conversations and helps develop connections between adult and child.

Structured enough to give children guidance and open ended enough to give them freedom to explore and discover what emerges, the journal is perfect for children who like to draw as well as those children who prefer not to write.

The prompts, which are engaging and playful, were created by an art-therapist and reflect the insights gained after years of sharing the joys of making art with children and the adults in their lives.

Critique: A 'consumable', this large (7.5 x 0.35 x 9.5 inches, 1 pound) hardcover edition of "Draw and Discover: An Art-Making Journal for Kids" is an ideal pick for use with children ages 5-12 and of particular interest to parents and caregiver's concerned with promoting a child's self-esteem and will prove to be a welcome addition to personal, professional, and family children's drawing books collections, as well as supplemental Art Therapy curriculum studies lists.

Editorial Note: Caren Sacks is a licensed and board-certified Art Therapist. Through her work with children, teens, parents, caregivers, and adults in various settings, she has witnessed the profound impact of the creative process. Recognizing the joy and significance of art-making combined with her expertise as an Art Therapist, Caren developed Draw and Discover: A Kid's Art Making Journal and Vision and Voice: An Art-Making Journal for Teens. She hopes the art making invitations within these journals ignite creativity, foster self-awareness, and encourage free expression.

Why the Bible Began: An Alternative History of Scripture and its Origins
Jacob L. Wright
Cambridge University Press
9781108490931, $34.95, HC, 500pp

Synopsis: Why did no other ancient society produce something like the Bible? That a tiny, out of the way community located on the fringe of great empires could have created a literary corpus so determinative for peoples across the globe seems improbable.

For Professor Jacob Wright, the Bible is not only a testimony of survival, but also an unparalleled achievement in human history. Forged after Babylon's devastation of Jerusalem, it makes not victory but total humiliation the foundation of a new idea of belonging. Lamenting the destruction of their homeland, scribes who composed the Bible imagined a promise-filled past while reflecting deeply on abject failure. More than just religious scripture, the Bible began as a trailblazing blueprint for a new form of political community. Its response to catastrophe offers a powerful message of hope and restoration that is unique in the Ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman worlds.

With the publication of "Why the Bible Began: An Alternative History of Scripture and its Origins", biblical scholar Jacob Wright provides us with a social, political, and even economic roadmap to the Bible's creation, an anthology of history, poetry and prophecy that enabled a small and obscure community located on the periphery of leading civilizations and empires not just to come back from the brink, but ultimately to shape the world's destiny. The Bible speaks ultimately of being a united yet diverse people, and its pages present a manual of pragmatic survival strategies for communities confronting societal collapse.

Critique: A simply fascinating and informative study from start to finish, "Why the Bible Began: An Alternative History of Scripture and its Origins" by biblical scholar and academician Jacob Wright is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended acquisition for personal, community, seminary, and college/university library Biblical Studies collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. A masterpiece of original scholarship and exceptionally well written, organized and presented, it should be noted for students, academia, clergy, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Why the Bible Began: An Alternative History of Scripture and its Origins" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $26.49).

Editorial Note: Professor Jacob L. Wright ( teaches Hebrew Bible at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. His first book, Rebuilding Identity: The Nehemiah Memoir and its Earliest Readers (de Gruyter, 2004), won the 2008 Templeton prize for a first book in the field of religion. He is also the author of David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory (Cambridge University Press, 2014), which won The Nancy Lapp Popular Book Award from the American Schools of Oriental Research, and most recently, War, Memory, and National Identity in the Hebrew Bible (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

Margaret Lane

Mark Walker's Bookshelf

Wind in the Elephant Tree
Earl Vincent de Berge
9788196316112, $17.00

Earl de Berge's third book of poetry is an Ode to his wife,Suzanne. Most poems are love poems or valentines to his life partner he met in college and married just after she graduated. This writer and photographer also shares memories of friends, scenes of his beloved Guatemala, aging, his legacy, and much more.

I met Earl and his wife, Suzanne, several years ago over lunch in Phoenix, discussing fundraising strategies for "Seeds for a Future," an NGO they set up in Guatemala, which provides training to impoverished rural women on the South Coast. I soon learned that we shared a love and appreciation of Guatemala and the Desert Southwest and that Earl was also a writer and, in his case, a poet.

I was surprised to learn that he started writing as far back as 1959 and is publishing an autobiographical novel laced with poetry and photos about his adventures as a young man in the Sonoran deserts of Baja California, Mexico, and Arizona, A Finger of Land On An Old Man's Hand. As a high school senior, he came across one of the best Chinese poets, Li Po, noted for his elegant romantic verse, which the author felt drawn to express to some of the various women in his life. He was soon writing about nature, the environment, cities, and social issues, and his imagination was fueled by his travels through Central America, the Sonoran Desert, and the Andes. "Everything I experience has potential for a poem - even the increasingly dreadful business of politics."

Most of his poems are about his wife, like this one written in Tucson in 1965.

Suzanne Beguiles Me

To me, it is the richness and
Kindness of your mind
That beguiles my intellect.

From your caring, tender touch,
My heart grasps the fullness of
Your grace and beauty.

The two combined
Are a greater gift
Than I deserve.

As with much of his writing, this book can be appreciated as a poem novel with elements of poetry, prose, and several photos that make up the author's literary adventures. He begins the book with the image of an Elephant tree in bloom, which harkens back to his 20s when he "rough-necked my way through wilderness deserts of Mexico with several friends" and came to the realization that neither he nor anyone else "is the center of the universe..."

My favorite section of the book focuses on a place we both admire, "Guatemala and its people are dear to us, and I have written about what I saw and assessed during those years. But Guatemala is also a place where we had time to dig deeper into why we loved each other." They purchased a lovely place on Lake Atitlan to relax and be together, only to sell it to form "Seeds for a Future," which provides training for rural women in the region of Chocola on the South Coast.

He never shies away from the country's dark side, as with "Guatemala Nightmare."
Already staggering, indigenous cultures suffocate
Beneath their growing numbers, poverty, prejudice, neglect
Poor food security and minimal health care.
Evangelicals challenge their belief in ancient gods...
And yet de Berge never loses sight of his lifelong love affair with Suzanne, as reflected in "My World is Best."

And though our hair grows grey
And our steps shorten and slow,
Your heart and spirit stay
Entwined with mine.

The book includes many outstanding, colorful photos beautifully reproduced by the publisher, This eclectic mix of poems and stories makes for a rich literary experience and reminds us that "Finding a new language and someone to speak it with" makes all the difference in life.

The Author

Arizona native, Earl de Berge is a writer, photographer and poet. His education includes Antioch College (BA) and U of Arizona (MA). A political scientist, he founded Behavior Research Center, created the respected Rocky Mountain Poll and was Editor for 35 years.

Writing poetry since 1959, he often focuses on his fascination with Sonoran Deserts, and his experiences in Guatemala's post-civil war years. He draws inspiration from the environment, poverty, shadows, friendship, loneliness, hope, aging, coyotes, hawks, brigands, fools, danger and death. And of course, politics. Earl's photographs, logbooks and essays reflecting on life experiences serve as foundations for his prose and poetry.

Earl has recently published three collections of his poems, "Alegro to Life," "Swans to Carry Me," and "Wind in the Elephant Tree," which touch on nature, human nature, love, desert silence, and life in Guatemala. He is currently assembling "The Man Who Ate His Dreams," a biography of a rags-to-riches businessman, artist, and poet; and a collection of short desert stories for young readers.

Earl and his wife, Suzanne, split their time between Arizona and Guatemala where they founded the nonprofit, Seeds for a Future, to help impoverished rural women improve their families' access to adequate food and nutrition with home gardens and small animal protein sources.

Mark D. Walker, Reviewer

Mark Zvonkovic's Bookshelf

The Pole
J.M. Coetzee
9781324093862, $26.00, 169 pp.

A graceful novel that elegantly describes the attraction of a thoughtful woman to an older man.

The story in The Pole is straightforward. An affluent woman almost fifty, Beatriz, who volunteers at the Concert Circle, agrees to entertain an esteemed Polish pianist in his seventies, Witold (referred to as the Pole), after his performance at the Concert Circle of his "historically authentic" version of Chopin. Beatriz's first impression of the Pole when he walks onto the stage is that he is a "poseur," and "old clown." That opinion degrades during the dinner to which she escorts the Pole after the concert, and culminates during a taxi ride back to his hotel with her mild revulsion from the smell of "male sweat and eau de Cologne." That should've been the end of her acquaintance with the Pole. But it was not, for a week letter she receives a package from the Pole which contains a CD with recordings of the Chopin Nocturnes and a note referring to her as an "angel." And there begins an email correspondence, soon becoming the impetus for her visit to a conservatory in a town a train ride away, where he is a guest teacher, and finally his longer visit to her family vacation home in Mallorca where their relationship becomes an affair.

The plot in The Pole is everything but unique. It has all the elements of a complicated, even if conventional, romance novel: chance encounter, strained meetings between the protagonists, contradictory beliefs concerning life, estranged spouses, physical attraction consummated, and, finally, a death. What distinguishes the novel is Coetzee's brilliant combination of the present tense with a third person point of view that is primarily omniscient, but for brief moments lapses in a close account by its omission of Beatriz's thoughts in favor of only a rendition of her actions. Many of Coetzee's earlier novels use the present tense but most of those are written in the first person, Waiting For The Barbarians being an example. The Pole is closer in form to Elizabeth Costello, whose primary protagonist, rendered in a third person point of view, is comparable to Beatriz. Yet The Pole has an intensity that is not as profound in Coetzee's prior novels. This intensity grows out of deep incursions into the thoughts and feelings involved in the protagonists' meetings, particularly when their relationship turns physical in Mallorca. At one point, Beatriz refers to Witold's desire that they be together in the "next life" as "sentimental nonsense." After Mallorca, she throws away his letters unread. And then, incongruously, she travels to Poland and finds his poems in his belongings meant for her. These she doesn't burn. She has them translated and what follows after she reads them is an exquisite depiction of her inner self, not described or told but rendered observationally in her thoughts about an afterlife, which is no longer to her "sentimental nonsense." What ends the novel are two imagined letters Beatriz writes to the Pole that contain some of the best prose Coetzee has ever written. They are the rose of his beautifully moving development of her character.

Coetzee is sometimes criticized for his novels leaning to the political. Arguably that is the case in Waiting For The Barbarians, which takes place in the imaginary Empire. And Elizabeth Costello is similar, as it is divided into eight lectures, each of which incorporates views that have political roots. The only politics in The Pole are the politics of the psyche. Brief mentions of current social issues are at times alluded to. The novel is entirely focused on issues of the heart, described by a woman who reluctantly and unexpectedly experiences a transcendent love with an old man.

Mark Zvonkovic, Reviewer

Michael Carson's Bookshelf

The Struggle for the People's King
Hajar Yazdiha
Princeton University Press
9780691246079, $95.00, HC, 286pp

Synopsis: In the post-civil rights era, wide-ranging groups have made civil rights claims that echo those made by Black civil rights activists of the 1960s. They range from people with disabilities, to women's rights activists and LGBTQ coalitions.

Increasingly since the 1980s, white, right-wing social movements, from family values coalitions to the alt-right, now claim the collective memory of civil rights to portray themselves as the newly oppressed minorities.

With the publication of "The Struggle for the People's King: How Politics Transforms the Memory of the Civil Rights Movement", Professor Hajar Yazdiha reveals how, as these powerful groups remake collective memory toward competing political ends, they generate offshoots of remembrance that distort history and threaten the very foundations of multicultural democracy.

In the revisionist memories of white conservatives, gun rights activists are the new Rosa Parks, antiabortion activists are freedom riders, and antigay groups are the defenders of Martin Luther King's Christian vision. Drawing on a wealth of evidence ranging from newspaper articles and organizational documents to television transcripts, press releases, and focus groups, Professor Hajar Yazdiha documents the consequential reimagining of the civil rights movement in American political culture from 1980 to today. She shows how the public memory of King and civil rights has transformed into a vacated, sanitized collective memory that evades social reality and perpetuates racial inequality.

Powerful and persuasive, "The Struggle for the People's King" demonstrates that these oppositional uses of memory fracture our collective understanding of who we are, how we got here, and where we go next.

Critique: Eloquent, exceptional, informative, insightful, impressively well written, organized and presented, "The Struggle for the People's King: How Politics Transforms the Memory of the Civil Rights Movement" by Professor Hajar Yazdiha and published by the Princeton University Press is a masterpiece of meticulous scholarship and a study that will be of immense interest to students of U.S. immigration history/policy, the Civil Rights movement, political ideologies and the current assaults on democracy and the rise of American fascism.

While especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and college/university library Contemporary Political Science collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists, it should be noted for students, academia, political activists, governmental policy makers, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Struggle for the People's King" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9780691246475, $29.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $16.17).

Editorial Note: Hajar Yazdiha ( is Assistant Professor of Sociology and a faculty affiliate of the Equity Research Institute at the University of Southern California.

How to Taste Coffee
Jessica Easto
Agate Publishing
9781572843295, $24.95, HC, 200pp

Synopsis: Have you ever purchased coffee based on a criteria of delectable flavor notes (strawberry jam, milk chocolate, hazelnut) only to find none of it in your cup? It's a common experience among coffee lovers.

These days, high-quality coffee can taste all kinds of ways, thanks to roasting techniques that help draw out the qualities of the bean. In addition to that characteristic coffee taste, you really can find hints of fruit, chocolate, and nuts in your cup -- all it takes is a little knowledge, a little practice, and the ability to slow down and savor.

That's where "How to Taste Coffee: Develop Your Sensory Skills and Get the Most Out of Every Cup" comes in. With the same accessible, no-shame approach she took in her earlier book, "Craft Coffee", author and coffee expert Jessica Easto explains why flavor notes are not always as straightforward with coffee as they are with other beverages, such as wine, beer, and spirits. With her help you will learn how our senses perceive coffee, what creates and affects coffee flavor, and how to practice your sensory skills, using the same tools and resources as coffee professionals.

With nineteen exercises designed to help you identify and talk about what you're tasting, you'll come away with a more developed palate, an improved ability to choose coffee you're going to love, and a better understanding of the astounding complexity contained within these tiny beans.

Critique: Original, seminal, informative, thought-provoking, inherently fascinating, exceptionally well organized and presented, "How to Taste Coffee: Develop Your Sensory Skills and Get the Most Out of Every Cup" is essential reading for any and all dedicated coffee lovers. This little volume of informative and insight will inspires all coffee drinkers to 'taste widely and sip consciously, with more appreciation, more discernment, and a greater sense of wonder'! While especially and unreservedly recommended for personal and community library Coffee & Tea collections, it should be noted that "How to Taste Coffee: Develop Your Sensory Skills and Get the Most Out of Every Cup" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $11.99).

Editorial Note: Jessica Easto ( is a writer and editor based in Northwest Indiana. She received a degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee and an MFA in fiction writing from Southern Illinois University. Her first book, "Craft Coffee: A Manual", was published in 2017 and was named a top food and drink book of the year by The Food Network, Wired, Sprudge, and Booklist. When she's not writing about coffee, she edits books and teaches copyediting and proofreading at DePaul University in Chicago. She can be followed on Instagram @j.easto

Michael J. Carson

Niles Reddick's Bookshelf

Forest for the Trees
Mathieu Cailler
Hidden Peak Press
9781959680017, $29.99, PB, 255pp

In his newest 2023 Paris Book Festival award-winning collection Forest for the Trees & Other Stories (Hidden Peak Press), Mathieu Cailler offers his most ambitious collection with an incredible range of plots, styles, characters. In his literary fashion, Cailler gives birth to these ideas that become stories, and then those stories move forward taking on a life of their own to unfold as beautiful expressions of his craft, which teaches others how it should be done. Many of these stories were previously published in literary magazines all over the world including The Saturday Evening Post, New Rivers Review, and The McNeese Review, just to name a few prestigious ones.

When you love all the stories in a collection, it's difficult to choose which to write about in a review, but to me, "On the Odometer" and "La Jolla" are favorites for very different reasons. Without giving it away, Amber and her husband Jay attend Jay's high school reunion, and Amber meets up with one of Jay's friends who shares more of their past than Amber cares to know. With his MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, Cailler is skilled at pulling his reader along, teasing them, and then offering a possible surprise. As a well-schooled philosopher would, Cailler leaves us pondering how well we know those who are the closest to us. The fact is that we don't know what are in others' hearts or minds, and in "La Jolla", Amber doesn't know. What I also love about this story is its stark realism. Cailler doesn't dictate his world to readers; he shows them and lets them come to their own conclusions.

In "On the Odometer" the story is told in small sections based on the odometer reading on a family's car - a 1953 Desota Powermaster. Each section offers a glimpse into the life of the family, of their relationships, of the powerful moments of life itself. The car is as much a part of their lives as are other family members, and like those humans, it evolves and ages along with them. I think it's a highly creative story, powerfully written and one that pulls at your heart strings.

With several writing projects under his belt, readers are excited to see what the future holds for this incredibly talented writer. We are certainly hopeful for many more books in the future.
Cailler is the author of a novel Heaven and Other Zip Codes, a collection Loss Angeles, two poetry collections Catacombs of the Heart and May I Have This Dance?, and two children's books, Hi, I'm Night and The (Underappreciated) Life of Humphrey Hawley. For more information about Mathieu's writing and books, please visit the Matheiu Cailler website at

Niles Reddick

Robin Friedman's Bookshelf

The Later Works of John Dewey, Vol 1, Experience and Nature
John Dewey, author
Jo Ann Boydston, editor
Southern Illinois University Press
9780809328116, $45.00, paperback

Reading Dewey's Experience and Nature

This past year, I have been studying the American philosopher John Dewey (1859 -- 1952), including his books "Democracy and Education" (1916), "Human Nature and Conduct" (1921) and "Experience and Education" (1938). This latter work relies heavily on Dewey's "Experience and Nature", published in 1925 and revised in 1929. Readers should be careful to use the 1929 version.

"Experience and Nature" is a formidable, daunting work, both in what it says and in the character of Dewey's prose. The book is undeniably a struggle. The work is part of Dewey's project of the reconstruction of philosophy. He expanded his philosophy of pragmatism to a philosophy he called empirical naturalism. His philosophy broadened to include, in reconstructed form, questions of metaphysics that he wanted to reject in some earlier works.

In the Preface, Dewey writes: "Modern science, modern industry and politics, have presented us with an immense amount of material foreign to, often inconsistent with, the most prized intellectual and moral heritage of the western world. This is the cause of our modern intellectual perplexities and confusions." Dewey attempts to show the source of these confusions in philosophical dualisms between, for example, the transcendent and the immanent, appearance and reality, subject and object, and mind and matter. His goal is to show the continuity between experience and nature rather than their separation. At the conclusion of the book's first chapter (rewritten in 1929) after strongly criticizing transcendental philosophies for the aspersions they allegedly cast on everyday experience and for discouraging a view that life "is or can be a fountain of cheer or happiness", Dewey says: "If what is written in these pages has no other result than creating and promoting a respect for concrete human experience and its potentialities, I shall be content."

Dewey shows historical and philosophical learning particularly from the ancient Greeks, from whom he learned much but also disagreed. He discusses the split between experience (subjectivity) and nature (objectivity) that characterized modern philosophy beginning with Descartes and tries to show how this split was based on what Dewey terms the "philosophic fallacy" of taking what is helpful as an instrument in understanding one part of experience as a rule governing the whole. Dewey writes throughout to understand the role of intelligence and reason in nature and in human life. Philosophers had tended to reify Reason when nature and the scope of experience were much larger. Reason and intelligence are of crucial importance for Dewey. They are instrumental in helping one work through a particular situation that presents itself rather than as omnipotent qualities somehow separate from experience. Dewey is critical of substantialization and in seeing reality as composed of stable objects. He sees instead reality as a process and as a flow of change, quickly or slowly, through time. His process thinking is related to the thought of William James and Alfred North Whitehead, among others.

Over the course of the book, Dewey develops and applies his thought to a broad range of philosophical problems, beginning with philosophical method and proceeding through existence as "precarious and stable", the nature of teleology and purpose, language, knowledge, mind and body, and consciousness, and the centrality of art and imagination to human experience. He concludes that "the highest because most complete incorporation of natural forces and operations in experience is found in art." Throughout the work, Dewey considers the nature of philosophy as the love of wisdom without a particular subject matter of its own. He sees philosophy as a "generalized theory of criticism. Its ultimate value for life-experience is that it continuously provides instruments for the criticism of these values -- whether of beliefs, institutions, actions, or products -- that are found in all aspects of experience." Criticism involves metaphysics or "the nature of the existential world in which we live" or "cognizance of the generic traits of existence" as discussed throughout "Experience and Nature". The reader new to the book should, I suggest, pay special attention to the Preface and to the opening and concluding chapters as a way of getting a sense of what Dewey is about.

This book is the subject of many interpretations and critiques, on whether Dewey makes good on his program of empirical naturalism, whether it is internally consistent, and whether he has adequately explained the nature of "experience" among other issues. It is an important, inspiring work of Anmerican philosophy which for a time fell into obscurity but which has become deservedly influential in more recent years. "Experience and Nature" is a book for readers with a passion for philosophical questions.

Lincoln's God: How Faith Transformed a President and a Nation
Joshua Zeitz, author
Viking Press
9781984882219, $30.00, hardcover

Abraham Lincoln And American Protestantism

Abraham Lincoln is rightly regarded as an American icon who continues to teach and to inspire. Yet, Lincoln was a notoriously private, enigmatic person who rarely shared his deepest convictions with others. This is no more true than in the matter of religion. Many thoughtful people are reticent about sharing their personal religious understanding; and of course many people are unsure of what they believe about God and are ambivalent. Lincoln's contemporaries said varying things about Lincoln's religious beliefs and how they may have changed over time. Most of seen him as something other than a traditional Christian. Lincoln scholars have also found difficulty in articulating Lincoln's private view of religion and God.

Joshua Zeitz is the most recent historian to write a book about Lincoln's religion in "Lincoln's God: How Faith Transformed a President and a Nation". (2023) His book tries to trace the development of Lincoln's religious thought in the context of his life, the growth of evangelical Protestantism, and the Civil War and the freeing of the slaves. While recognizing the iconoclastic character of Lincoln's view of God, Zeitz concludes:

"Though his brand of Christian faith was not evangelical by common definition, in his appeal to the prevailing religious sensibility of the country-- in his deft mobilization of Protestant churches, and in his knowing evocation of religious language and themes to help Americans understand the times in which they lived -- Lincoln was, arguably, the nation's first evangelical president."

Zeitz makes a strong claim, even with his several qualifications. His book makes it difficult to focus on Lincoln's religious beliefs. The work is short and attempts to cover a great deal. Chapters outlining Lincoln's life alternate with chapters on American religious history and on the rise of evangelical Protestantism, Evangelicalism is never adequately defined or differentiated from other forms of Protestantism. Zeitz writes that in the first halfof the 19th century, Americans underwent a spiritual transformation and "flocked to new evangelical churches, which held that through belief, repentance, and a personal relationship with Christ, individuals could find grace in this life and the next." The growth of evangelical religion before and during the Civil War occupies much more of Zeitz's book than does his study of Lincoln's beliefs.

Zeitz studies Lincoln's early life and his determination to make something of himself and to escape the harsh, poor farming life and predestinarian views of his father. He gives a summary of Lincoln leaving home and trying to learn, rise and become involved in politics, which is tied into the rise of American individualism, personal effort, capitalism, and evangelicism. As a young man, Lincoln was a freethinker who learned that with a political and legal career in mind his deepest views were best kept to himself.

Zeitz shows the fissures in evangelical Christianity resulting from slavery and its gradual move to abolitionism and to support (in the North) of the Civil War as an effort to root out the evil of slavery. He draws parallels with Lincoln's life and his performance as president. He suggests Lincoln turned to religion and to the mysteries of life with the death of his beloved son Willie in 1862 and with his realization of the enormity of the conflict that the Civil War became, as reflected in the Gettysburg Address, the Second Inaugural Address, in some of Lincoln's letters and private notes, and elsewhere.

For Zeitz, Lincoln returned to something approaching the belief of his father in his view of divine Providence and predestination. Lincoln kept his own mind and differed from others in the North in refusing to conclude that God was on one side or the other in the conflict or that people could understand God. As reflected in his speeches, which were political statements designed to move others, and in his life, Lincoln did seem to move to a vague but deeply held view of divine providence and in modern terms spirituality. But this is far, in my view, from seeing Lincoln through the eyes of evangelicism or Christianity.

Zeitz discusses the relationship between secularism and religion and finds that they became closely intertwined in Lincoln's time and continued so to the present, with the divisive polarization in our country as one result. I agree with him that polarization is due in large part to religiosity and to differing interpretations of religion and of what God demands of individuals and of society. I am uncomfortable with this, as I think Zeitz is.

This book does not probe deeply, given its scope, and overstates Lincoln's evangelicism or evangelical influences. I still found the book thoughtful and worthwhile. It encourages reflection on Lincoln, on religion, and on our own troubled times.

To a Mountain in Tibet
Colin Thubron, author
9780061768279, $TBA pbk / $12.49 Kindle

A Sacred Mountain

Located in remote southwestern Tibet on the border with Nepal, the 22,000 foot high Mount Kailas is sacred to four religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and the ancient Tibetan Bon. The mountain is regarded as the center of the world, and as the concrete realization of the mythical Mount Meru. The steep, forbidding mountain has never been climbed, but it has for centuries been visited by pilgrims who walk around the 32-mile base of the mountain in a journey called a kora.

In 2009, Colin Thubron, a well-known English travel writer and novelist, undertook a journey to Mount Kailas, as recounted in this new book "To a Mountain in Tibet". The title, of course, may be taken both as a reference to the journey to Mount Kalias and as a hymn to the mountain itself. I was attracted to the book by my interest in Buddhism and from an excerpt published recently in "The New York Review of Books". Raised as an Anglican, Thubron, from this book, is a secular person with no specific religious faith. He undertook the journey to reflect upon the deaths of his family members -- the recent death of his mother, an earlier death of his father, and the still earlier death of his sister, age 21, in a mountain accident. Thubron also used the journey as a means for meditation and reflection. While written by a polished writer and a professional traveller, the book has a highly personal tone.

The book is short but makes for dense, close reading. Thubron describes the physical journey to Mount Kailas and the places and persons he meets on his way in great detail. Interspersed with the story of the trip are lengthy sections of the book which describe related matters: the reflections of the author on his journey and his family, the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, the nature of death and impermanence, the journeys earlier Westerners have made to Mount Kailas, the legends which have accumulated for centuries regarding the mountain and much more. These sections are as integral to the book as the narrative of the journey. Careful reading is required because Thubron frequently switches without warning from a story of the trip to a reflection on a closely-related personal, religious, or historical issue.

The journey begins in Nepal, as Thubron is a solitary Western traveller accompanied only by his Nepalese guide and Nepalese cook. The difficult uphill journey to the Nepalese -- Tibetan (Chinese) border occupies close to one-half the book. as Thubron passes by monasteries, simple homes and villages, and strangers on the path. Early in the book, he meets a small wandering group of passing monks about a site and asks them what it commemorates. The monks do not know. "Why would they care, who have been taught the transience of things?" Thubron asks. (p. 54) And as the monks continue on their way, Thubron wonders at them, "their lightness, their lack of need.... They have shed what others shed in dying."

Thubron's journey takes place in the Buddhist holy month of Saga Dawa, and occurs in the company of many pilgrims who have gathered to perform kora under the hostile eyes of the Chinese. At the outset of the pilgrimage, Thubron describes the beautiful, isolated Lake Mansorovar, itself a holy place, and the highest large freshwater lake in the world. The journey around Mount Kailas can be accomplished in a day and a half but sometimes takes pilgrims as long as three weeks if they prostrate extensively along the way. Thubron describes the path, the pilgrims, the caves, byways and legends. But he describes primarily the harshness of the journey and the fortitude and commitment necessary to undertake it. The journey involves severe, endless climbs, lack of oxygen, and bitter cold. It is not a trip for the casual hiker.

Throughout the book, Thubron is moved by the religious spirit of the pilgrims to Mount Kailas who brave an arduous, sometimes fatal journey and by the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism on impermanence, change, and death. A lengthy section in the midst of Thubron's journey around the mountain describes in sharp detail the usual Tibetan burial method of sky-burial. It paints a grizzly picture. Then, towards the end of his kora, Thubron reflects upon and quotes extensively from "The Tibetan Book of the Dead", written to ease the transition period in Tibetan Buddhism between death and rebirth. The teachings of a monk named Tashi, whom Thubron had befriended in Kathamandu at the outset of his journey, come back to Thubron at the end of his kora, as they do frequently in the journey's course: "from all that he loves, man must part." Yet together with his focus on death and impermanence, Thubron celebrates the beauty and the danger of the mountains, lakes and rivers, strong relationships with people, and the force of erotic love. He retains throughout his trip much of his tone of western skepticism.

As I read this book, I longed to see Mount Kailas and to make the journey for myself. Such a trip would be an empty dream for many reasons, including physical stamina. But then I realized that the journey and its goals do not require extensive or esoteric physical travel. Thubron's book reminded me that, secular or religious, the journey is within.

Yosl Rakover Talks to God
Zvi Kolitz, author
Carol Brown Janeway, translator
Pantheon Books
9780375404511, $14.55 pbk / $7.99 Kindle

A Theology Of The Holocaust

This short book raises difficult philosophical and theological issues.

In 1946, a writer named Zvi Kolitz published a story in Yiddish in an Argentinean Jewish newspaper. Although the work was clearly subtitled as "a story" and bore the name of its author, it soon assumed a life of its own. "Yosl Rakover" became published over the years in some sources as a first-person account by a martyr who died in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

The story is best known for its protagonist's reflections on a "God who hides his face."Yosl continues his belief in God and in the Torah while he confronts God with the senseless, undeserved suffering endured by the Ghetto Resistance and by those who suffered and died in the Holocaust.

This book includes Kolitz's story together with a lengthy essay by Paul Badde which addresses the history of the work and its author.

I found most fascinating about this book, however, the two essays by Emmanuel Levinas, the great French philosopher, and Leon Wieseltier. In their different ways the two essays discuss and comment on Kolitz's tale and take issue with each other.

Levinas' essay, first published in 1955, recognizes the fictional character of the account. He sees the book as creating an internal (rather than a transcendent) concept of God emphasizing the importance of human ethics. This is consistent with the rest of Levinas's philosophy, but it may not capture the essence of Kolitz's.

In his essay, Wiesentheler takes issue with Levinas's reading and takes issue as well with the theistic approach of Kolitz's story. I find this a courageous approach. Modern readers may well have difficulty with Kolitz's rendering of the Holocaust because of the difficulty they have in finding God through the face of sheer evil. Every reader will need to face this question for him or herself.

Small Craft Warnings
Tennessee Williams, author
New Directions
9780811204613, $TBA

Small Craft Warnings

Tennessee Williams wrote an introductory essay titled "Too Personal" to his 1972 play, "Small Craft Warnings". In the essay, Williams defended the deeply subjective, autobiographically-based nature of his writing. Williams argued that a playwright necessarily put himself, his persona, into his writing. He wrote: "the very root- necessity of all creative work is to express those things most involved in his experience. Otherwise, is the work, however well-executed, not a manufactured, a synthetic thing?" Williams concluded that the artist had the responsibility to universalize his private experience so that it could be shared with others. He wrote.

"In all human experience, there are parallels which permit common understanding in the telling and hearing, and it is the frightening responsibility of an artist to make what is directly or allusively close to his own being communicable and understandable, however disturbingly, to the hearts and minds of audiences."

In the two-act play, "Small Craft Warnings", Williams presents his own feelings of loneliness, need for love, ambivalence about his sexual orientation, and sense of ennui. The play is set in a small southern California bar that fronts on the Pacific Ocean and that caters largely to a group of regulars, mostly poor, lost individuals. The play has little in the way of plot or of dramatic action. Instead Williams tries to understand and project his characters from the inside by showing their relationships to each other. Much of the play consists of lengthy monologues.

The characters in the play include the proprietor, Monk, who lives alone and who tries takes a clear-eyed view of his clientele. The clients include Doc, a physician who has lost his license due to alcohol and substance abuse but who still practices illegally. There are also two semi-paired couples, Leona, a beautician who lives in her own mobile trailer, and her boyfriend, Bill, a self-proclaimed stud whom she is dumping. The other pair consists of Violet, a prostitute who lives above an arcade, and her sometime boyfriend Steve, an aging short-order cook. Throughout the play Williams develops the character of these loners and outcasts and their tensions with each other. Two other individuals figure in the play: Quentin, a middle-aged failed screenwriter reduced to working on blue movies and Bobby, an adolescent who has bicycled from Iowa to California. Quentin has picked-up Bobby in a brief relationship about to end. These two characters provide for Williams' first overt depiction of a homosexual relationship in a play. Quentin has a lengthy monologue in which he laments the sameness and impersonality of his sexual life while yearning for a return of enthusiasm in which a person can say "My God!" rather than "Oh, well" to new experiences.

The play is slow but lyrical and romantic. Williams fulfills the goal stated in the introductory essay, "Too Personal", of making "what is directly or allusively close to his own being communicable and understandable, however disturbingly, to the hearts and minds of all whom he addresses." The play enjoyed a measure or success when produced off-Broadway in 1972. It ran for over 200 performances with Williams directing the rehearsals for a short time. During the run of the play, Williams acted the role of Doc in a passionate, idiosyncratic style. His performance was undoubtedly one to remember. Clive Barnes gave the play a favorable and insightful review in the New York Times. He wrote:

"All the characters seem to be a species unto themselves. Williams is here describing the surviving losers of mankind, the people who pay their dues in suffering and float on life with a modicum of gallant misery. Williams is a writer of enormous compassion- it is a compassion that leads him at times into sentimentality, but it is also a compassion that that opens up doors into bleak and empty hearts." (New York Times, April 3, 1972)

John Lahr offers a thorough discussion of "Small Craft Warnings", its writing, and its autobiographical roots in his 2014 biography: "Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh." Lahr describes the play as "a collage of mostly static character sketches: a collection of derelict lost souls who gather in a California seaside bar to drink, carouse, look for love, and flounder eloquently in the avant-garde of suffering." The play is a product of Williams' late years when he was in a long decline. It is not the best of Williams' work, but it is worth reading and getting to know. The play is included in the second of the two-volume anthology, "The Collected Plays of Tennessee Williams" published by the Library of America.

Robin Friedman

Suanne Schafer's Bookshelf

Face of Greed
James L'Etoile
Oceanview Publishing
9781608095872, $27.95

Face of Greed is the first in author James L'Etoile's Detective Emily Hunter Mystery series. I've read and enjoyed his earlier Nathan Parker and Detective Penley series. Readers who enjoy noir, thrillers, police procedurals, and suspense will enjoy his books. James L'Etoile uses his twenty-nine years as an associate warden in a maximum-security prison, a hostage negotiator, facility captain, and director of California's state parole system to add verisimilitude to the novel. His style is taut and fast-paced, and he wields red herrings like a knife-thrower.

Emily Hunter, the main character, is a detective competing in the male-dominated world of police detectives while struggling with a mother stricken with dementia. Emily and her partner Javier are called to the scene of a businessman's murder and have a hunch his grieving widow isn't really as grief-stricken as she appears to be. Matters become complicated when the mayor of Sacramento gets involved and tries to keep detectives from questioning the widow. As the investigation progresses, the body count rises and the ring of crime spreads centrifugally from the first, involving local politicians, a RICO investigation, and the Aryan Brotherhood.

Odyssey's End (The Rick Cahill Series Book 10)
Matt C. Coyle
Oceanview Publishing
9781608094813, $27.95

Odyssey's End is the tenth book in Matt C. Coyle's Rick Cahill private investigator series. I am currently up-to-date on this series and have enjoyed keeping up with PI Rick Cahill's life. Like the other books in the series, Odyssey's End has enough back story sprinkled into the current world that it can easily be read as a stand-alone. In the ten books, Cahill has endured the death of his first wife, though he remains in poor standing with local law enforcement because at one time he was the primary suspect for her murder. He's remarried and now has a toddler daughter. He's survived blindness and recently learned that he has CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) from multiple concussions during his years of playing sports and being beaten up as a private investigator and cop. Unable to handle his displays of rage, his wife has left him and returned to her family in Santa Barbara.

Cahill is a great wounded hero, and Coyle does a superb job of capturing Cahill's efforts to deal with his new diagnosis. Cahill - a moody PI, tough, hard-boiled, and unapologetic in the tradition of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. Odyssey's End centers around Peter Stone, a frenemy of Cahill's, who supposedly needs a kidney donation. He asks Cahill to track down his daughter for the purpose of seeing if she would be a match. Side plots include a cryptocurrency scandal, dirty FBI agents, and threats to Cahill's family in Santa Barbara. As the title implies, Cahill's odyssey may be ending, but are there future adventures for this PI as he battles his CTE?

Play of Shadows (Dr. Evan Wilding Book 3)
Barbara Nickless
Thomas & Mercer
9781662509988, $16.99

Play of Shadows is the third in Barbara Nickless's Dr. Evan Wilding series. Kudos to her for developing an atypical protagonist (Evan Wilding is a dwarf with an enormous intellect and a PhD in semiotics) and thrillers that are atypical to say the least. I love reading thrillers and Greek myth retellings, so Nickless hits the ball out of the park on this one, as far as I am concerned, especially as this series is more intellectual than the usual thriller. This is the third in the series but can be easily read as a standalone.

In Play of Shadows, Evan reunites with his three-years-younger brother, River, to battle a mythological being, the Minotaur (part ancient Greek god, part beast, part human) in Chicago. River is an archeologist, an Indiana Jones type character (another of my favorite tropes) who was gifted an Indiana Jones hat by their father. The brothers had an absent mother and a domineering pharmacologist father who traipsed around the world seeking new drugs. The book takes a look at sibling rivalry, good versus evil, whether people are born innately bad and how soon depravity is evidenced in the young.

I enjoyed the technical aspects of the books, the derivations of names, the ancient scripts, and the myth of the minotaur, but these are easily understood by laymen without a semiotics background.

The Embroiderer
Kathryn Gauci
Ebony Publishing
9780648123514, $17.99 pbk / $5.99 Kindle

I always enjoy reading Kathryn Gauci's historical fiction. The Embroiderer is a multi-generational multi-point of view family saga spread from Constantinople to Smyrna to Athens then on to Cairo and England running from 1822 to 1973. The book focuses around Sophia, a strong female protagonist who deals with emotional and physical traumas in the many wars and skirmishes between Christians and Muslims living in Turkey. Though the story focuses on Sophia, it actually begins with her great-grandmother Artemis and continues through Sophia's grandmother Dimitra, then Sophia's children, Maria, Leonidas, and Nina, then Sophia's granddaughter Eleni. Part of the tale is told in the memoirs of the the great-grandmother

Gauci conveys a great deal of cultural information about both sides of the conflict and presents a balanced view despite the fact that her heroines are Greek (watch for the surprise near the end, though). Her descriptions of the fashion salons and embroidery ateliers of the time are lovely. She doesn't gloss over the horrors of war but doesn't glorify them either and shows that even between "enemies" such as the Greeks and Turks, there can be found, not just profound friendships, but abiding true love.

Underground Railroad Series
Doug Peterson
Kingstone Media
9781613280812, $14.99

This series of three books (The Vanishing Woman, The Disappearing Man, and The Tubman Train) is based on true stories of how slaves escaped from their southern masters in pre-Civil War days. The crux of each tale is true, but parts are fictionalized. The Vanishing Woman covers the escape of Ellen Craft, a White-appearing slave, escaped in 1848 by posing as a white man, while her husband William pretended to be her slave. After multiple adventures and near-misses at being caught by slave hunters, they arrive in Philadelphia and eventually immigrate to England. The Disappearing Man deals with the story of how Henry Brown mailed himself to Philadelphia in a wooden box. The Tubman Train looks at how Harriet Tubman escaped her owners and then returned south over and over to bring back relatives and other Blacks who wished to escape the south.

These books emphasize a part of American history that is now being rewritten historically. A certain white southern governor is now touting that this state of involuntary servitude between Whites and Blacks was "beneficial" to Blacks, glossing over the fact that in the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries, a Black diaspora occurred in which West and Central Africans were shipped to the Americas via the Atlantic slave trade with an estimated two million people being killed. There is a strong religious element in each story which lots of hymns interspersed in the prose, but that is to be expected from anything published by Kingstone Media, a company that develops out religious comic books and movies. Author Peterson acknowledges the brutality of slave life with its whippings, hangings, family separations, etc. that Blacks endured, but doesn't dwell on these adversities, rather sanitizing it to an "acceptable" level. The prose in these books is rather simplistic with a lot of "telling" rather than "showing," and a vocabulary appropriate for 10-14 year old kids. The books are just under 300 pages with short chapters. These books would be a good first introduction to upper grade school and junior high readers. Peterson has two other volumes out that follow similar patterns: The Lincoln League and The Dixie Devil.

The Painter
Peter Heller
9780385352093, $24.95

I'm a sucker for books about art and books that somehow capture the splendor of nature. Peter Heller's The Painter wins on both counts, with the added attraction of a stark, precise prose that deftlyrenders complex emotions and joy and grief of the human condition. In many ways I am reminded of the works by Richard Wagamese that I've read recently blended with A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean.

Jim Stegner is a complex man, raised in the Pacific Northwest in a logging family. After his father's death and finding his mother in bed with his father's foreman, Jim runs away from home. When he stumbles into an art museum, flabbergasted by paintings, this young man decides to become an artist. Haunted by his mother's death before he could tell her he forgave her and loved her and by the violent death of his teenaged daughter, who he yelled at when she tries to confide in him about her first love, a young drug user.

Jim finds peace in painting and in fly fishing, seeking those moments in both where time and the world slip away and where he's left in a kind of ecstasy, where he can "feel a cooling, the calmness of craft, of being a journeyman who focuses on the simple task." Yet a darkness dwells within Jim. At times he loses control of his emotions and his fists, causing him to spend time in jail. When he loses control again, defending a horse from a man beating it, tension mounts in his life, precipitating further loss of control - and bringing a newfound verve to his paintings that send the prices his dealer gets for them into the ozone. Overall, The Painter is a book about a brilliant artist and emotionally tortured man on a quest for redemption. This book hits the shelves of my permanent collection.

The Wolf and the Woodsman: A Novel
Ava Reid
Harper Voyager
9780062973122, $27.99

In The Wolf and the Woodsman, Evike is the only woman in her village without magical powers. The locals claim her corrupted bloodline is the problem: her father was a Yehuli man, a tax collector from the capitol. The king, who is consolidating his powers with pagan magic, sends the Woodsmen, a holy order, to collect a pagan girl who is a seer to augment his collection of magical powers. Rather than give up a valued girl with powers, the villagers betray both Evike and the Woodsmen by giving her up instead. The Woodsmen are attacked by monsters en route to the capital, leaving only Evike and the one-eyed captain of the Woodsmen alive. The Woodsman is actually Prince Gaspar Barany, who fears his younger brother is plotting to overthrow his father and unless terror across the land and kill all who do not profess to the Patrifaith. The two survivors must join forces to survive other monsters, the frigid tundra and the politics of the capital.

The Wolf and the Woodsman is a delightful combination of Hungarian and Jewish folklore with some nation-building tossed in. Cultural genocide, religious persecution, ethnic cleansing, and the use of propaganda to achieve those goals lay at the core of the book. Beneath the fairy tale coating is a rather realistic representation of the marginalization and oppression that occurred with Jews and other ethnoreligious minorities before and during World War II. Evike and her Woodsman must decide which side of the conflict they lie on, and how to achieve their goals of putting down the Patrifaith.

Suanne Schafer, Reviewer

Susan Bethany's Bookshelf

Miss Chase: Santa Barbara's Trailblazer
Simon Kerry
Unicorn Publishing Group
9781911397731, $30.00, HC, 240pp

Synopsis: "Miss Chase: Santa Barbara's Trailblazer" by British historian Simon Kerry is a new and comprehensive biography of instrumental conservationist Pearl Chase's fascinating life and is a tribute to her remarkable achievements.

Spending over seventy years pioneering work in preservation, social services, and civic activism, Pearl Chase met and corresponded with the most significant influencers of the time. Serving on hundreds of committees and working with organizations, she received over eighty national, state and local awards including two honorary doctorates. Pearl Chase was known as Santa Barbara's woman of the twentieth century. Devoted to improving the world around her, Pearl Chase was an intrepid, forward thinking, practical-minded leader.

Through his meticulous research and with respect for his distinguished American ancestor, British historian, Simon Kerry traces Pearl Chase's early life and collegiate years at UC Berkeley through to her return to Santa Barbara and indelible impact on both California and the nation. During a tumultuous period in American history in the early twentieth century, she paved a way for not only the environmentalist movement but also for women's influence in politics in the federal and local civic spheres. Her compassionate, charitable nature extended to many cultural groups and causes, evident in her vocal support of protecting the lands and customs of Native Americans in the southwest.

Critique: The fascinating life of a most remarkable woman, "Miss Chase: Santa Barbara's Trailblazer" is a deftly crafted and inherently interesting read from start to finish. Especially and unreservedly recommended for community and college/university library American Women Biography/Memoir collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Miss Chase: Santa Barbara's Trailblazer" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $28.50).

Editorial Note #1: Pearl Chase ( was born in Boston, Massachusetts and moved to Santa Barbara at the age of 12. After graduating from Santa Barbara High School in 1904, she attended the University of California at Berkeley where she was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta. She graduated with a Bachelor of Letters in history in 1909.

Editorial Note #2: Simon Kerry was awarded an MA in Archaeology from the University of Cambridge, an MBA from Ashridge Business School, an MSc in Rural Land and Business Management from Reading University and a PhD in History from the University of East Anglia. He is currently managing a family business in the hospitality and leisure sector. His first book Lansdowne: The Last Great Whig was published by Unicorn in 2017.

Diagnosis Dementia: Your Guide for Eldercare Planning and Crisis Management
Nicole J. Smith
NJS Press
9798989043408, $19.99, PB, 182pp

Synopsis: Nicole J. Smith was blindsided by her mother's post-pandemic mental decline. A year later, after a neurological exam and follow-up, her mother was officially diagnosed: she had Alzheimer's.

As the denial and drama escalated, Nicole and her Aunt Nancy created a transcontinental plan to find their loved one a safe, secure senior residence. From a daughter's point of view and with the publication of "Diagnosis Dementia: Your Guide for Eldercare Planning and Crisis Management", Nicole tells their story of shock, research, worry, discovery, and ultimate success.

Of special note is that she also shares information and tips to help others find their way through one of life's most difficult passages.

Critique: Informative and inspiring, "Diagnosis Dementia: Your Guide for Eldercare Planning and Crisis Management" by Nicole J. Smith must be considered essential reading for anyone having to deal with Alzheimer's (or any other form of dementia) with a family member or friend. Exceptionally well written for the non-professional general reader, and of significant value for the medical and health care community, "Diagnosis Dementia: Your Guide for Eldercare Planning and Crisis Management" is especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, and college/university library Adult Dementia collections in general, and Alzheimer's Care Giving in particular. It should be noted that "Diagnosis Dementia: Your Guide for Eldercare Planning and Crisis Management" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99).

Editorial Note: Nicole J. Smith, an advocate for dementia awareness, is a Connection Circle leader for, an online support resource for adults caring for aging parents. She also hosted the Happy to Help radio show, featuring aging and dementia issues. Her work has been published in Faith and Family magazine and on the Advocate for Mom and Dad website.

Please Write: A Novel in Letters
J. Wynn Rousuck
Bancroft Press
9781610886031, $22.95, HC, 252pb

Synopsis: An epistolary novel with a twist, with the publication of "Please Write: A Novel in Letters" by J. Wynn Rousuck chronicles the correspondence between Vivienne, the alter ego of a recently widowed Cleveland artist, and Zippy, a mixed-breed terrier rescued off the streets of Baltimore.

Their letters change and enrich their lives as well as that of Zippy's owner, Pamela, a harried journalist whose life is unraveling.

Combining the canine viewpoint of A Dog's Purpose with the poignant style of The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society, "Please Write", with its Disney-like charm, delivers a distinctive account of coping with heartbreak and loss through the power of imagination and love.

Critique: Eloquent, original, inherently fascinating, and a fun and humorous read from start to finish, and all the more impressive considering that its author J. Wynn Rousuck debut as a novelist, "Please Write: A Novel in Letters" is a unique, deftly crafted, and unreservedly recommend pick for personal reading lists and community library Contemporary General Fiction collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists for anyone with an interest in epistolary fiction or has a canine companion of their own that "Please Write: A Novel in Letters" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99).

Editorial Note: J. Wynn Rousuck ( is the theater critic at Baltimore's NPR affiliate, WYPR, and the former longtime theater critic at The Baltimore Sun. She has been published in magazines ranging from American Theatre to Dog World, and her writing has been honored by organizations including the Dog Writers Association of America. She has taught writing and theater at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Critics Institute, Goucher College, and in various programs at Johns Hopkins University. Her award-winning short stories have appeared in Atticus Review and Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, and her interviews can be found in the book, Hairspray: The Roots and Conversations with Neil Simon.

Transland: Consent, Kink, and Pleasure
Mx. Sly
Arsenal Pulp Press
9781551529318, $21.95, PB, 320pp

Synopsis: "Transland: Consent, Kink, and Pleasure" is a fiery and revealing memoir by Mx. Sly that explores what happens when a non-binary person goes looking for self-worth and a sense of belonging in fetish subculture, only to find that fetish communities come with just as many problematic rules, expectations, and hierarchies as mainstream ones.

Moving from wide-eyed optimism that the fetish community is the promised land to realizing the ways fetish communities (even queer ones) reinforce the commodification of bodies, Mx. Sly examines how BDSM helped them understand and articulate their gender, how kink helped them turn shameful experiences into liberating ones, and how they became disillusioned with the BDSM scene -- without rejecting the lessons fetish taught them.

The personally experienced stories comprising "Transland" explore PTSD, intergenerational trauma, memory, consent, gender transition and diversity, queer relationships and subculture, and a lot of bondage. An odyssey of kinky hookups (including a charismatic Toronto femdomme, an Aussie rope bondage expert, and the queer sex tourism neighborhood of Bangkok), gender euphoria, and testing the limits of sensual experience, this memoir is a candid exploration of fetish communities and practices and a wandering quest through sensuality toward personal strength and self-reliance.

Sexy, gutting, graphic, and existential, "Transland" is ultimately about finding oneself through intense sensations, reaching a point where being hit has diminishing returns, and coming out wiser on the other side.

Critique: Of special and particular recommendation to mature readers with an interest in LGBTQ memoirs and biographies, "Transland: Consent, Kink, and Pleasure" is a very special and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, and college/university library LGBTQ collections and supplemental Human Sexuality curriculum studies lists. It should be noted that "Transland: Consent, Kink, and Pleasure" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $10.99).

Editorial Note: There is an informative online interview with Mx. Sly regarding "Transland" at

Susan Bethany

Willis Buhle's Bookshelf

Frontiers: The Journey of Two Surgeons Through Stroke
Dr. Siva Murugappan, author
Dr. Prema Samy, author
9781039176447, $26.99, HC, 108pp

Synopsis: We can't always predict when the unexpected will happen. Dr. Siva Murugappan understands this more than most. As a general surgeon, he's an expert on prevention and protocols. A stroke definitely wasn't on the agenda; he'd just climbed Mount Kailash in Tibet, 21,778 feet above sea level. But four months later, a stroke is exactly what happened-right in the middle of a medical procedure on a patient. Dr. Murugappan quickly discovered the guidelines and their limitations won't work for him, that he must forge his own path.

"Frontiers: A Surgeon's Journey through Stroke" is a stroke survivor's memoir through recovery and its expected and unexpected challenges. Told from the perspectives of Dr. Murugappan and his wife Dr. Prema Samy, "Frontiers" illustrates the ways stroke affects survivors and their loved ones alike.

More than anything, "Frontiers" is a story of perseverance. Dr. Murugappan refuses to accept the narrative imposed him, that he'll never practice medicine as he did pre-stroke. Like climbing Mount Kailash, stroke recovery becomes his new frontier. Regaining his medical licence drives his rehabilitation. This new purpose becomes essential when Dr. Murugappan and Dr. Samy realize there is no precedent in Canada for a doctor reclaiming their licence post-stroke.

Now, this frontier must be surmounted not only for himself but for anyone in a similar situation, regardless of profession. And while he undertakes these challenges, his wife and caretaker must overcome her own. How much can anyone endure? How much can their marriage take? Dr. Murugappan and Dr. Samy soon find out.

Critique: Exceptionally well written and presented, as well as holding a particular relevance and interest for readers who are having to deal with similar medical issues, "Frontiers: The Journey of Two Surgeons Through Stroke" is as informative as it is ultimately inspiring. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community and college/university Health/Medicine collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Frontiers: The Journey of Two Surgeons Through Stroke" is also readily available in a paperback edition (9781039176430, $15.99) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $4.99).

Editorial Note: Dr. Siva Murugappan is a general surgeon and husband to Dr. Prema Samy, an ear, nose, and throat surgeon. Dr. Murugappan is a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the Canadian Medical Protective Association, and the Ontario Medical Association. Frontiers: The Journey of Two Surgeons Through Stroke is their first book. With so few stroke memoirs available, they were inspired to share their story in the hopes of helping others. Their perspectives as practicing doctors, with Dr. Murugappan's unwavering desire to return to work, will inspire stroke survivors to transcend their own frontiers.

50 Years - 50 Lessons!
Fergal Barr
Collective Ink Books
9781803412832, $25.00, PB, 224pp

Synopsis: Most bookstores sell self-help 'how-to' titles aimed at how to fix you. Whether it's leadership, management, self-help or therapy, fitness or food, alternative lifestyle or mindfulness, so much of what's offered is geared towards reinforcing the message that you need to change, that you're living your life the wrong way, or that you're not fulfilling your potential.

"50 Years - 50 Lessons!: A Middle-Aged Man's Suggestions for Not Fecking Things Up - Now and in Later Life!" by Fergus Barr is different. Barr doesn't tell anyone to change. His purpose is to encourage reflection, nurture curiosity, and challenge assumptions.

Inside the pages that comprise "50 Years - 50 Lessons!", Barr has outlined 50 lessons, each of which is underpinned by a set of values and beliefs gained directly from the author's lived experiences. Aimed at provoking one's thoughts about a wide range of contemporary issues, these lessons also ask its readers to reflect on their own values and beliefs, and, in doing so, to contemplate their future approaches to different issues.

Critique: Unique, fascinating, thoughtful and thought-provoking, "50 Years - 50 Lessons!: A Middle-Aged Man's Suggestions for Not Fecking Things Up - Now and in Later Life!" is an extraordinary and life enhancing, life-improving, life-changing read and a welcome, unreservedly recommended pick for personal, professional, community, and college/university library Self-Help/Self-Improvement collections. Of particular import for readers with an interest in personal transformation and spirituality, "50 Years - 50 Lessons!" is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $20.17).

Editorial Note: Fergal Barr ( is a parent, grandparent, youth worker, Liverpool supporter, tea drinker, avid book reader (non-fiction), humour and music lover, and occasional author.

Willis M. Buhle

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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