Four favorite songs from past decades

March 30, 2022 at 11:19 pm (Music)

‘Chelsea Morning’ by the incomparable Joni Mitchell:

The whole song is marvel of terrific lyrics and infectious melody. The line that particularly stays with me is “The sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses.”

Two songs that tell a story. First, ‘Hotel California.’ This song tells a disturbing yet compelling story and ends with this ominous line: “You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.” According to Don Henley. the song is about “…a journey from innocence to experience … that’s all” You can make up your own mind.

I’m no expert, but that virtuoso guitar playing, especially at the end, seems pretty extraordinary to me.

How can we ever thank Gordon Lightfoot for writing a ballad that could have come out of a previous century. In simple, straightforward language, he tell a heartbreaking – and true – story:

‘The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early.’

Finally, Linda Rondstadt with The Eagles, a band she helped found. ‘Desperado,’ it seems to me, is a song she was born to sing:

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‘100 Best English Language Novels from 1923 to the Present’ ( actually 2005), according to Time Magazine

March 20, 2022 at 8:57 pm (Uncategorized)

I love lists like this! With this one, in particular, I found myself careening between books I could not get through to books I loved.

Here’s a link to the list.

And here are some (totally subjective) examples:

Books I couldn’t get through:

Call It Sleep by Henry Roth

Light in August and The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. I’ve had my struggles with Faulkner…

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. …and with Virginia Woolf as well.

Possession by A.S Byatt. Yes I know: All my literary friends and relatives – including my mother – eagerly pressed this book upon me. What can I say? It just didn’t work for me. I found something about her writing oddly off-putting. I think I prefer her sister Margaret Drabble.

Love the cover, though:


The Beguiling of Merlin by Sir Edward Burne-Jones


Books I loved (and still love):

Atonement by Ian McEwan. Not my absolute favorite McEwan, though – that would probably be Enduring Love.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. listened to this on CD in the car, and II remember having to pull over at on point because I was laughing so hard!

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene – though my favorite work by this author is The Quiet American

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett. Instead of The Maltese Falcon – really? But I do love those subtle pulp fiction covers:


I decided on a special category for books I especially revere:

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. One of my favorite novels ever. A beautful, beautiful book.

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. To quote myself from a previous post: ‘Although it dragged in some places, and Dreiser’s writing can be exasperating, it was also powerful enough to keep me up at night and in a deep state of dread. I ended up loving it.’

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.”
(I was going to add something, but I don’t think I really need to.)

Rabbit, Run by John Updike

Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth

And a novel from Australia that is, in my opinion, one of the great under appreciated masterpieces of 20th century literature: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay. And after you’ve read the novel, watch Peter Weir’s brilliant realization of it on film.

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‘He was determined, deliberate, canny, and manipulative.’ – Scoundrel: How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free, by Sarah Weinman

March 18, 2022 at 12:29 am (Uncategorized)

That was Edgar Smith, all right. He was also a husband, a son, and a father.

You’d think he’d know better, wouldn’t you?

In the year 1957, Edgar Smith of Bergen County, New Jersey, was arrested for the murder of 15-year-old Vickie Zielinsky. He was ultimately found guilty and sentenced to death. Their followed a fourteen year struggle to escape the snares of the death penalty, all the while steadfastly maintaining his innocence. Ultimately he managed not only to avoid execution but to gain release from prison entirely. This was by way of entering a plea of non vult, or no contest, in regard to the murder. In 1971, he admitted before a judge that he in fact did commit the crime. This should have resulted in a further prison sentence, but the judge gave Edgar credit for the over fourteen years he had already served, took into account his good behavior while behind bars, and suspended the remainder of his sentence. (Part of this ‘good behavior’ consisted in the writing of several books, the first of which, Brief Against Death, won him considerable acclaim.)

Thus Edgar Smith, although on probation for several more years, walked out of court and into the wide world a free man, still maintaining his innocence. ( The terms of the plea stipulated that before the judge, he had to confess his guilt.)

Sarah Weinman acquaints us with the numerous individuals who believed in Smith’s innocence and fought alongside him for exoneration. The best known of these was William F. Buckley. His role in this drama is fascinating to read about, especially for those of us who vividly remember his dominating presence on the scene as a conservative spokesman in mid twentieth century America.

Upon his release, Edgar Smith appeared with Buckley on his TV show Firing Line:

Sarah Weinman has been involved in the crime fiction scene in this country for quite some time. I was a fan of her blog Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind. She left off blogging for other activities in the field, most notably working on anthologies such as Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives and he two-volume set, Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 1950s. In these endeavors, one of her goals has been to bring some of the excellent women crime writers from that era back before the reading public. In this, she has succeeded admirably. (And I can’t resist extolling the virtues of one particular novel to be found in the 1940s volume. It’s called The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. It is both a vivid portrait of wartime America and a gripping crime story. Above all, it’s the story of one woman’s struggle to raise her two teen-agers alone while her husband is fighting abroad.)

Sarah Weinman has now turned to writing true crime. The Real Lolita (2018) was a revelation and an enjoyable read. Scoundrel is, in my opinion, even better. For a while now, I’ve been looking for a true crime narrative as compelling and as memorable as I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.

Found it!

Sarah Weinman

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Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King

March 11, 2022 at 5:43 pm (Uncategorized)

Just a quick note before I return this to the library: Five Winters in Tuesday is wonderful! It’s a collection consisting of ten stories. They’re about ordinary people coping with the unexpected – sudden love, sudden lust, or lack of sudden anything. They’re about the curves life throws at you and the way that, while you’re thrashing about in a sea of uncertainty, your coping mechanisms keep you afloat – sometimes, barely. The writing is beautiful, and the characters spring to life with astonishing vividness.

I kept putting off finishing this book. To my dismay, I found that this is the author’s only short story collection. But there is a novel by Lily King, Euphoria, that I’ve heard good things about. That will be next read.

Meanwhile: More stories, Ms King, please – and soon!

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Hans Holbein the Younger

March 9, 2022 at 12:13 am (Art, Music)

An exhibit featuring the works of Hans Holbein the Younger is currently to be seen at the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan. The exhibit is entitled “Holbein: Capturing Character.”

The artist’s famed portrait of Sir Thomas More has been conveyed downtown from the Frick Collection in order to be part of this showing.

I’ve known this painting my whole life. I’ve spent many hours in front of it, gazing intently, hypnotized. It has always been for me a sort of summation of the endlessly fascinating history of England. (I was especially delighted to encounter Holbein himself in the pages of Hilary Mantel’s magnum opus, Wolf Hall. )

And by the way, Holbein Senior was no slouch either, as I learned from Franny Moyle’s biography The King’s Painter.

Death of the Virgin by Hans Holbein the Elder c.1490

Peter Scheldahl, who writes about art – wonderfully – for The New Yorker, covered this exhibit in the magazine’s February 28 issue. In particular, he describes a work that is not part of the installation at the Morgan. He first saw it where it resides in the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland. It made an unforgettable impression him, as it has on many others, including myself:

Tantalizing hints of unfulfilled potential attend much of [Holbein the Younger’s] tyro work, notably one of the most indelibly shocking images of all time, “The Dead Christ in the Tomb” (1521-1522). The painting, measuring a foot high and six and a half feet wide, depicts a gruesomely putrefying corpse that, if unearthed, could present only a sanitation problem. Famously, Dostoyevsky’s encounter with the picture, in 1867, shook his Christian faith and obsessed him thereafter, figuring as a philosophical provocation a year or so later in his novel “The Idiot.”

Scheldahl adds parenthetically: “The work is not in the Morgan show but I will not forget, no matter how hard I try, my own first look, in the Kustmuseum Basel, at that…what? That thing.”

The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1520-1522

But the portraits for which Holbein is best known are those he made in England, of King Henry VIII:

1536 or1537

Now, go back and gaze once more at these extraordinary images while you listen to some music of the period: Ave Maria by Josquin des Pres and Cantate Domino by Claudio Monteverdi. The Monteverdi is a bit later than Holbein’s time, but I love it and wanted to include it here.

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Need for the Solace of Beauty

March 5, 2022 at 5:59 pm (Art, Music, Spiritual)

This work resides in the Groeningenmuseum in Bruges, Belgium. It was painted between 1434 and 1436 by Jan van Eyck. To me, it is somewhere beyond beautiful, even approaching perfection. Art historian Carel Huydecoper offers an enlightening explication. You can enjoy his talk, or simply stare, and be mesmerized – or both.

While you are gazing on the painting, you can listen to Panis Angelicus, an exquisite short piece of sacred music by César Franck. I’ve long known about the version with Pavarotti and the children’s choir of Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica. But the version below came as a surprise to me – and a pleasant one that I wasn’t expecting:

Here is Pavarotti at the Notre-Dame Basilica:

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