Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner by the Dutch novelist Herman Koch was published in 2009 and became a huge bestseller in Europe and has since gone on to international acclaim.  Two film versions of The Dinner are now on Netflix, the US version, starring Richard Gere, which I haven't seen, and the Italian subtitled version of the film directed by Ivano De Matteo which I saw a few weeks ago and I was quite  impressed.  It's the kind of film that gives you alot to think about regarding life and such questions as how far should parent's go in protecting their children?  What does it mean to do the best thing for your child?  Can we know how someone will react in a crisis, particularly if up until then they have led a charmed life?  So with these thoughts swirling in my head I was eager to also read the novel.

I wish I could say the novel, The Dinner, was even better than the movie or equally as good but I cannot.  Ivano DeMatteo and his scriptwriter knew that for the film to work the novel would have to be edited considerably and they made a wise choice.  I found the characters in De Matteo's film much more believable and likeable and the story much more credible than the novel which goes over the top in terms of plot twists.  Twists that in my opinion were unecessary.  Herman Koch is a talented writer.  His idea for the book, two brothers (Paul and Sergio Lohman)  and their wives (Claire and Babette Lohman) having dinner at an exclusive restaurant to discuss what to do about their two sons, Rick and Michel, who have committed a shocking unsolved murder is more than enough material for a page turning read.

The Dinner has been compared to Gone Girl and I can see why.  Both books are narrated by characters you cannot trust.  Paul Lohman who narrates The Dinner for example is increasingly sinister as the book progresses, only matched by his wife Claire who eventually shows herself to be worse than he is if that's possible.  And so the initial question of what do Paul and Claire & Sergio and Babette owe their teenage sons gets lost.  The parents with the exception of poor Sergio Lohman (the only decent character in the novel) prove to be so unhinged that I couldn't draw any lessons for my life which I was able to do with the movie.  So my advise is to see Ivano De Matteo's film of the Dinner which is both entertaining and thought provoking but I cannot recommend the novel.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

Good to be back reading and blogging!  And my first book back is A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf (published in 1929).  I read it many years ago and had forgotten a great deal about the book but one thing holds true, it remains a wonderfully written thought provoking classic on the subject of women and fiction.  A Room of One's Own is also an interesting hybrid of a book, an essay in the form of a novel.

When our story begins Mary Beton (a pseudonym poossibly for Virginia Woolf) is walking around Oxbridge University.  Mary has been asked by the University to give a lecture on the subject of women and fiction but she soon realizes that giving a quick talk on Jane Austen, the Brontes, George Elliot, Elizabeth Gaskell and calling it a day, won't do.  The subject of women and fiction is not simple.

Mary, carrying a notebook, decides to visit the Oxbridge Library looking for answers as to what sort of talk she should give but finds it barred to women.  Mary then decides to head to London and visit the British Museum and discovers that prior to the 18th century  while very little was written by women, a great deal was written about women.  Mary notices a curious contradiction.  Throughout the ages, the women depicted by men in poetry, drama and novels:  Antigone, Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Phedre, Rosiland, Desdemona, and later Clarissa, Becky Sharp, Anna Karenina, Emma Bovery etc have been strong and independent characters:

""Indeed, if women had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a figure of the utmost importance, very various, heroic and mean, splendid and sordid, infinitely beautiful and hideous in the extreme ... She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history.  She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction ... some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband".  

In doing her research Mary discovers a bishop now deceased who wrote that no woman would ever be able to match the genius of Shakespeare any more than a cat will be able to get into heaven and Mary remarks: "how much thinking those old gentleman used to save one"!  And yet on further reflection Mary Beton realizes that the bishop had a point which brings us to a famous passage in the book.  What if Shakespeare had a gifted sister?  What would have been the fate of a woman of genius in Shakespeare's time?  Mary makes a convincing case that it would have ended tragically but she also recognizes that no woman in Elizabethean England would have been able to write the plays of Shakespeare:

For genius like Shakespeare's is not born among labouring, uneducated servile people.  It was not born in England among the Saxons and the Britons.  It is not born today among tne working classes.  How, then, could it have been born among women whose work began almost before they were out of the nursery, who were forced to it by their parents and held to it by all the power of law and custom". 

There are many issues explored in A Room of One's Own, some of which I take issue with for example Mary Beton (Virginia?) feels that anger at injustice can be healthy in real life but has no place in literature.  It's why Mary regards Jane Austen and Emily Bronte as great whereas Charlotte Bronte is simply good.  As Mary sees it too much of Charlotte's bitterness at her situation in life made it onto the pages of Jane Eyre.  Having read Jane Eyre I disagree.  Charlotte Bronte is a great novelist, sometimes passionate and angry but that's what gives her novels their power.

Mary has other thoughts.  I particularly liked the section in which she writes about Lady Winchilsea, Margaret of Newcastle and Diana Osborne all of whom lived in the 1600's.  We get snipets of their poetry and their letters in a Room of One's Own but their talent was never allowed to develop.  Mary also gives us her thoughts on the future of literature when men will more freely explore their feminine side and women their masculine and no topic will be off limits.  But are we there yet?  Today in many parts of the world if you are a woman you cannot write freely and that's true of men as well.  In many parts of the world you are putting your life in danger if you decide to challenge the system through your writing.

At the end of the book Mary is ready to give her lecture as she arrives at her conclusion that to produce great art women have always needed a room of their own.  An independent income to be able to afford that room and the freedom and time to be able to sit at one's desk and write.   I recommend A Room of One's Own.  Mary is an engaging and at times humorous narrator and if you have never read Virginia Woolf, one of the great writers of the 20th century, A Room of One's Own is a great place to start.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Up and Running

So, for the past two weeks I have been reposting my book reviews that I wrote from August 2015 to May 2016.  The reviews got deleted accidently and my blog wouldn't be the same unless I reposted them.  I have about 20 more old reviews left and over time I will get them all back on but now it's time to go back to reading and reviewing new books here at Reading Matters and I hope to have a new book review up within a week. 

From the Archive: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett first posted on 5/22/2016

My next book here at Reading Matters is The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.  Ken Follett began his writing career writing spy thrillers all of which were bestsellers.  Then in 1989 he changed course and published Pillars of the Earth a historical novel set in 12th century England.

The result was phenomenal.  Readers loved Pillars of the Earth.  It became his biggest bestseller and critics were impressed as well.  I had read Follett before.  I knew he was talented and since I enjoy historical fiction I decided to give Pillars of the Earth a try.  It's a 1000 page read so it takes committment but it's a measure of Ken Follett's skill that he kept me interested throughout and you learn about history in an interesting way.

Pillars of the Earth begins in 1120 with the sinking of the Whiteship in the English channel.  It's a true historical event in which about 300 people died including William Adelin, the only legitimate son of Henry I.  William's death threw the British monarchy into crisis as to who would succeed Henry I.  A civil war broke out from 1135 to 1154 in which Steven of Blois, the nephew of King Henry I and Empress Matilda, King Henry's daughter battled for the crown.  But Pillars of the Earth does not so much focus on what was happening in the monarchy as it does on the building of a Cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge during this period of turmoil.

Two characters in Pillars of the Earth stood out for me.  William Hamleigh, the evil son of Lord Percy Hamleigh.  You definitely root for him to get his just deserts as the attrocities he commits keep mounting.  And then my favorite character is Phillip, the Prior of Kingsbridge.  Phillip is a monk, an intelligent, good and brave man who runs the monastery at Kingsbridge. He is intent on building the Cathedral as a beautiful monument to God but also he understands that a Cathedral in Kingsbridge would attract worshippers and improve the livelyhood of the towns people.

Phillip's determination to continue building the Cathedral is aided by another major character in the novel, a gifted architect named Jack Jackson. The characters determined to stop the Cathedral seeing it's construction as a threat to their power are William Hamliegh and Waleran Bigod, the Archdeacon of Shiring.  There is also a love story between Jack Jackson and Alena, the daughter of the Earl of Barholomew.  We meet Thomas Beckett a real historical figure whose murder rocked England to its core.  I heard the name Thomas Beckett but always thought he lived in the 15th or 16th century but Pillars of the Earth educated me on who he was, why he was important and the time period in which he lived.

I ended Pillars of the Earth impressed with Ken Follett's talent although maybe the book could have been condensed a bit without losing its power.  In 2007 Ken Follett published a sequel to Pillars of the Earth that takes place once again in Kingsbridge but this time in the fourteeth century.  Follett has also written Fall of the Giants the first novel in his 20th century trilogy series which focuses on five fictional families as they make their way tbrough the 20th century.  It's a book I want to read and as with all of Ken Follett's novels it's a major bestseller. 

From the Archives: The Full Catastrophe: Travels Among the New Greek Ruins by James Angelos first posted 5/8/2016

We don't hear much about the Greek debt crisis these days but the lessons that James Angelos wrote about in The Full Catastrophe are still relevant about the dangers governments can get into financially when they are not balancing the books.  James Angelos does a good job in laying out what happened.  

posted 5/8/2016 - I like to mix it up here at Reading Matters reading and reviewing history, classics, current affairs, fiction, biographies, mysteries etc and so book fourteen in my fifty book reading challenge is The Full Catastrophe: Travels Among the New Greek Ruins by James Angelos.  It's a book about the Greek Debt crisis which has been in the news since 2009.  I'm of Greek descent on my father's side and I wanted to know what were the root causes of the financial crisis in Greece and was there a way forward?  The Full Catastrophe is an informative book that goes a long way in answering these questions.

The author James Angelos is a second generation Greek American and a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.  As he explains the Greek debt crisis came to light partly due to the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the domino effect it created.  But primarily the crisis took off in 2009 when Greece revised its projected budget.  Turns out their deficit would not be 3.7 percent of their GDP as they told the Eurozone but revised to over 15 percent.  Angelos writes that since joining the European Union, Greece had made substantial upward revisions to their debt ever year.

The European Union was furious but let Greece leave the EU and other countries in Europe with troubled economies might soon follow.  So in exchange for bailouts to Greece in the billions the EU and the IMF demanded that Greece sign on to a strict austerity plan and Angelos writes about how devastating that plan has been  particularly towards the poor and the elderly and unemployment has hit 28%.  The Greek people have not reacted well to the demands of the EU and widespread protests and strikes have occurred.  Most worrisome has been tbe rise of the neo fascist group Golden Dawn which thankfully has begun to lose support in Greece and the government has begun to seriously crack down on this group as well.

Greece's financial troubles had been brewing for decades according to Angelos: false disability claims, people working off the books and not paying taxes, people being hired for life, pensions given too early and generously.  Widespread corruption in which the government had turned a blind eye to all of this, particularly around election time.

As to how Greece can recover Angelos points to the city of Thessalonoki run by a forward thinking mayor Yiannis Boutaris who wants to emphasize Thessaloniki's pluralistic past. Thessaloniki once had a substantial Turkish and Jewish population and everyone lived together for centuries.  The Turkish population left and the Nazis came and murdered almost the entire Jewish population and demolished with the collaboration of Greek authorities one of the largest Jewish cemetaries in Europe, possibly thousands of years old. A terrible part of Greek history.

Thessalonoki today is almost entirely Greek Christian and Boutaris feels this lack of diversity is a detriment to Greek progress and betrays Thessaloniki's diverse past.  He's gone to Israel and Turkey inviting people to visit where their ancestors once lived and many Israelis and Turks have come for a visit.  Boutaris has also tried to hold the prior government in Thessaloniki responsible for corruption and instituted new accounting practices.  Newspapers from the New York Times, Telegraph, Der Speigel etc have called Boutaris a breath of fresh air.  The citizens of Thessaloniki are grumbling but on the plus side despite the criticism they reelected Boutaris by a two thirds majority.

Reading the Full Catastrophe can be a sobering experience.  At the end of the book realizing he painted a gloomy picture of Greece, Angelos emphasizes the kindness he encountered through his travels and the beauty of Greece, the scenery, and urges people to visit.  If you are interested in Greece, it's history, psychology, present day struggles, this is a good book to pick up.  It doesn't sugarcoat but change happens when you address problems directly.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

From The Archives: Death At La Fenice first posted on 4/14/2016

Death at La Fenice piublished 1992 is the first book in Donna Leon's internationally acclaimed and bestselling Guido Brunetti mystery series.  Commissario Brunetti is a Venetian detective and all of the novels in the series are set in present day Venice where he lives and works.   As my friend Iris, who recommended Death at La Fenice said to me, the city of Venice becomes a character itself.  I value Iris' opinion and she is right.  Venice, the people, the politics, the food, the culture make this novel worth reading.

But ultimately any mystery series rises and falls on the lead detective.  If we bond with the detective, private investigator etc we are going to want to follow him or her into book two, three, four in the series.  People keep coming back to Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot novels because of Hercule Poirot and since there are currently 25 Guido Brunetti novels in the series and fans have yet to tire of him I would say Ms. Leon has done her job well.

As to why I became smitten with Commissario Brunetti it's hard to pinpoint.  Above all Donna Leon is a talented writer.  But also too many sleuths in mystery novels these days are loners, alcoholics, fighting with their ex-wives or their supervisor and the actual mystery can play second fiddle.  Not so in Death at La Fenice.  The mystery of who poisoned the famous conductor at the Venice Opera House remains front and center.

But as Commissario Brunetti walks around the city interviewing witnesses and suspects we get to learn a bit about him.  Brunetti is happily married for seventeen years to his wife Paola a university professor.  They have two teenage children.  Brunetti is thoughtful, intelligent.  He knows about philosophy, music, books.  He has a cynical side partly due to his job as a police officer but also as Leon seems to say it's a trait he shares with everyone in Venice, a cynicism about the government, the church, the newspapers.  He cares about his job and though he deals with crime and murder his home life is happy but he is not boring.  And Ms. Leon takes care in creating the other characters who populate Death at La Fenice as well.

It's a great thing to find a new author who keeps you turning the pages.  And even better to find a great new mystery series so that you will have books in reserve to look forward to when life gets stressful or you are feeling down.  I suspect Detective Brunetti, the city of Venice and I will be spending alot of time together in the years to come.  Thank you Iris!  I highly recommend Death at La Fenice.

Friday, November 3, 2017

From the Archives: Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt first posted on 4/1/2016

"My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and where I was born.  Instead they returned to Ireland when I was four, my brother Malachy three, the twins Oliver and Eugene, barely one and my sister Margaret dead and gone".

And so begins Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt's extraordinary memoir of his poverty stricken childhood from age four when his family moved to Limerick Ireland in the 1930's ending at age nineteen when he moved back to America.  Angela's Ashes was a literary sensation when it was published in 1996, an international bestseller that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and now having read it I can certainly see why.

Some might say, well, do I really want to read a memoir about an author's impoverished childhood?  Oh but you want to read this book. You want to read it because it's very funny as Frank McCourt tells us about his family, the neighbors, the goings on in the pubs, Catholic school etc.  It's also tragic and very moving when you learn what the McCourt family endured.  I was shocked about what poverty is really like and Frank McCourt is a gifted writer who tells his story from the mindset of how young Frank age four, seven, thirteen experienced what was going on around him.

Angela's Ashes caused a scandal in Limerick when it was published.  Some felt it portrayed an unfair portrait of Limerick.  I can see their point because every city and town particularly during the Great Depression had neighborhoods where people were living a hand to mouth existance.  John Steinbeck's novel the Grapes of Wrath is one such example and of course there is widespread poverty today.

As for why the McCourt's were so poor?  Alcoholism.  Frank's father could not hold a job and if he did have a job he'd be drinking away his wages at the pubs.  Frank McCourt said he waited so long tp publish his memoir because he couldn't do it while his mother was alive. and as I continued to read the book I had an evolving opinion of Angela McCourt, Frank's mother.  She isn't the warmest of mothers.  Their father drinking away is a much more amiable sort.  Angela, understandably, is frazzled, worried, angry and very often in tears about the situation her family is in.  However by the time the book ended and I realized by hook or by crook Angela kept the family together, despite all the heartache she experienced herself, I really admired her.

Frank McCourt would go on to write two more memoirs, Tis about what happened at age nineteen when he got to America and Teacher Man which recounts his thirty years as a school teacher in NYC.  He passed away a few years ago but his masterpiece, Angela's Ashes, will be read and marvelled at one hundred years from now.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

From the Archives: Divine Secrets of the Ya, Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells first posted 3/19/2016

After reading Great Expectations I wanted to choose a novel that was a little lighter in content and Divine Secrets of the Ya,Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells seemed just the thing.  A number one bestseller when it was published in 1996.  Divine Secrets of the Ya, Ya Sisterhood tells the story of four female friends (Viv, Tensey, Caro and Necie) living in Louisiana from the 1930's when they meet as young girls on up to the 1990's when they are grandmothers.  A review of the book said if you like the novels of Fannie Flagg (which I do) then Divine Secrets is for you and so I began reading hopefully but the deeper I got into the book the more I struggled to finish Divine Secrets.

Part of the reason I think is that despite the Ya, Ya Sisterhood title this is not really a book about four female friends where we follow each of them through narriages, careers, triumphs and tragedies.  Divine Secrets keeps its focus on only one of the Ya, Ya women, Viv Walker, and the rift that occurs when her daughter Sidda Walker, a successful theater producer gives an interview to the New York Times in which she reveals that her mother hit her as a child.  Viv hurt and humiliated back in Louisiana severs ties with Sidda.  Sidda devastated by her mother's rejection decides to postpone her wedding.  Viv hearing this feels guilty because when sober she was a great mother but when drunk the demons came out.

So Viv, still mad, decides to mail Sidda her scrapbook, the Divine Secrets of the Ya, Ya Sisterhood.  It's filled with photographs, mementos, letters detailing the fifty year friendship of the four Ya, Ya women.  Each picture that Sidda takes out of the scrapbook tells a story but Sidda only sees the photograph, we the reader are told a great deal more.  We learn for example that the picture of a handsome young man with his arm around Viv is Jack, the love of Viv's life.  Jack will be killed a few years later flying a combat mission in World War II.  We learn about the Great Depression and what it was like to attend the opening night of Gone With the Wind.  We learn about racism in the South.  We learn about Viv's parents, an abusive father who beat his wife and children and a mother who took out her rage on Viv who had spunk and a sense of fun and adventure that her mother never had.

But Sidda knows known of this.  All she sees are the photographs of Viv's mother and father who make any parenting mistakes Viv made with Sidda look mild in comparison.  As I got deeper into the book I found myself getting annoyed at Sidda.  We spend alot of time with her in the cabin in Seattle as she pours over the old photos, crying, drinking wine and trying to fugure out her mother's life.  Does Sidda have a right to be angry at Viv?  Yes, but as one reviewer put it Viv isn't so much angry as obsessed.  At one point Viv's friend Caro asks Sidda "isn't the scrapbook enough"?  And Sidda replies:

"No it's not enough.  It irritates me, it frustrates me to look through that scrapbook and only get inklings, only tiny slivers of information.  No explanations, no dramatic structure!  Mama owes me some pointers ..."

And Caro points out that Sidda is 40 now and that her mother doesn't owe her anything.  Viv wasn't perfect.  No mother is but she did the best she could and she loved her children and it's time for Sidda to move on.  Wise advise and Sidda by the end of the book is able to make peace and move on but I had moved on way before that.

From the Archives: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens first posted on 2/26/2016

When I began my book blog I wanted to include some of the great writers I had never read before and so book ten in my fifty book reading challenge is Great Expectatiins by Charles Dickens.

Great Expectations is narrated by Pip (Phillip Pirrup).  The year is about 1860 and Pip is telling us about his younger days in the early 1800's.  We learn about his life growing up an orphan in a small village in Kent raised by his sister and her kind hearted husband Joe Gargery.  Thanks to an annonymous benefactor, Pip is able to leave his village and arrive in London with a generous allowance and aquire new friends, lodgings, culture etc.  It's an opportunity to move to a higher station in life and Pip to quote the title of the book has great expectations.

Pip's tone though throughout the novel is tinged with melancholy and we sense early that this is a cautionary tale.  Pip introduces us to other characters who influence his life for good or ill. The escaped convict Abel Magwitch, the reclusive spinster Miss Havisham, her adopted daughter Estella, Pip's best friend Herbert.  As for Pip he makes mistakes but most of what happens to him in the novel is a byproduct of the bad choices and bad luck that have happened to others.  The case of Miss Havisham for example who cannot forgive her fiance walking out on their wedding day 30 years ago.  We see how the inability to move on can corrode one's own life but also the lives of everyone around you. 

As for Pip he has tbe ability to forgive and still care for others.  That is impressive.  He would have reason for example to blame Miss Havisham for ruining his chance at happiness but he doesn't.  Possibly Dickens is telling us that class and good character were inate in Pip all along.  He didn't need to go to London to become a gentleman.  He learned that from his brother-in-law who raised him. 

Great Expectations has taken me a month to read and though I didn't leave ready to jump into another Dickens novel (at least not right away) I did leave with a curiousity about the man himself since many of Dickens' novels  have an autobiographical aspect to them.  Dickens wrote about the poor, being in debt, children, prisons, workhouses and he knew about all this first hand growing up.  Critics regard him as the greatest novelist of the Victorian age and so now if anyone asks if I ever read Charles Dickens I can say, yes, I have read Great Expectations.

From the Archives: LIfe and Other Near Death Experiences by Camille Pagan first posted 1/31/2016

I am a hypochondriac which is why I found this book so meaningful when I read and reviewed it early last year   The likeable young woman in this story Libby Miller is hit with devastating news regarding her health.  How she first handles it might not be the best course of action but it rang true to me.  Also her mother who passed away earlier in her life is a najor presence in this book.  Despite the stage four diagnosis Libby is handed I thought how she makes her way through this story was inspiring and believable. 

1/31/2016 -- It's a New Year and for me that means my doctor visits begin again.  We all take them and people say better safe than sorry but I always see any doctor visit as cause for alarm.  Hypochondriac that I am it might seem strange that I would decide to read Life and Other Near Death Experiences by Camille Pagan.

It's a contemporary novel in which the heroine Libby Miller is in her 30's and finds out she has a rare and deadly form of cancer.  Her first thought is to go home and talk to her husband Tom who she has always relied on for support.  He will know what to do.  But before Libby can reveal her news, Tom has some suprising news of his own.  Libby ends the narriage and decides not to tell Tom or anyone about her cancer diagnosis.

Libby also decides why bother with treatment when the odds don't look good?  She watched her mother die from cancer when she was young.  Why inflict that again on her father and brother?  Why tell anyone? And so Libby sells her apartment, quits her job, withdraws her savings and moves to Vieques, a small island near Puerto Rico that her mother loved.  As Libby says, "it was all going to be very eat pray die".  The plan is to spend her remaining year walking on the beach, sipping pina coladas and visiting the places that meant so much to her Mom.  Of course things don't work out the way Libby planned.  The small plane she takes to Vieques for example is flown by a handsome Puerto Rican pilot who has been through health issues himself and meeting him is one of tbe joys of this novel. 

Life and Other Near Death Experiences is not a depressing read despite the subject matter and some will say that's a problem.  Libby narrates the novel in a funny tinged with sarcastic "and then this happened" way.  But as the novel progresses the author Camille Pagan is able to convey some important lessons about not going it alone.  People want to help.  The ending though is too pollyanna and I wondered what people faced with serious illness might think of Libby's journey.  The takeaway might be that it's important to go for doctor visits and treatment regardless of the fears you might have.  You owe it to yourself to fight.

Finally Libby who begins the novel angry and panicked gradually evens out and becomes more reflective and though her mother is no longer alive you sense that she is still with Libby in spirit.  I found libby a likeable, funny and strong character you will want to root for.  Over 2000 people have reviewed Life and Other Near Death Experiences on Amazon and it's a book I recommend checking out. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

From the Archives: The Blooding by Joseph Wambaugh first posted 1/16/2016

In his book The Blooding bestselling author and former LA Detective Joseph Wambaugh tells the story of the rape and murder of two teenage girls in Leicester England in the 1980's.  This case is historically significant because it's the first time DNA evidence was used in a police investigation.  Prior to this point DNA was used to determine paternity but when the two girls in Leicester were killed three years apart 1983 and 1986.  The British public wanted answers and the police had a sense that one man had committed both crimes.

Turns out nearby the murders, at Leicester University, Dr. Alec Jeffreys was developing what would turn out to be DNA profiling.  Dr Jeffreys offered his services to the police and they sent out a dragnet asking men between the ages of late teens to middle age to come in for a blood test.  Thousands of men had their blood drawn which raised civil liberties questions.  But this blood test campaign was important not only for ruling out suspects but also catching the killer.  As Joseph Wambaugh points out who didn't show up for the blood test became as big a clue as who did show up.

In the genre of True Crime, Joseph Wambaugh is top notch.  In his many books he is able to paint a picture of the town where the crime occurs, the family, friends, suspects and the victims.  Being a former detective Wambaugh is particularly good at explaining police work and the mindset of detectives and while I prefer another book Wambaugh wrote, Echoes of Darkness, The Blooding was a page turner particularly if you are a fan of shows like CSI and Forensic Files since The Blooding is where DNA solving crimes first got started. 

From the Archives: Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick first posted 1/10/2016

This past Thanksgiving to get into the spirit of the Holidays I read Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, an award winning historian, who has written books on the American Revolution, Custer's Last Stand, the Sinking of the Whaleship Essex etc.

Philbrick's book Mayflower published in 2007 tells the story of the Puritans coming to America in 1620, Provincetown Harbor, Massachusetts.  He also takes the reader through the next 50 years of New England History culminating in King Phillip's War (1675-1678).  It was a war between tbe descendants of the Mayflower Puritans and Native Americans who greeted them upon arrival.  Philbrick points out that in the 50 years prior to the outbreak of war both sides had gotten along reasonably well and had worked out a contract that had kept the peace for half a century. 

As Philbrick explains both sides needed each other.  The Native American population in the Cape Cod area had been decimated in the years prior to 1620 by disease brought over by European explorers.  The Puritans after departing ftom the Mayflower were also struck by disease.  Of the 102 that sailed on the Mayflower only 53 were still alive by the following winter of 1621.  Both sides had a great deal to teach each other about crops, shelter, hunting and medicine. And in the beginning both the Puritans and Native Americans had visionary leaders who kept the peace.  But as the decades went on and more and more English settlers landed on the shores of New England grabbing land and unfairly compensating the Native American population, tempers began to mount. 

Nathaniel Philbrick wonders in his book if things could have turned out differently and the tragedy of King Phillip's War averted?  He does a very good job of detailing this period of American history including why the Puritans were willing to leave England risking their livelyhood and their lives.  Mayflower shines a light on a period of US history not taught much in schools but should be. 

From the Archives: Temple by Robert Greenfield first posted 11/15/2015

Temple by Robert Greenfield published 1983 is a book I bought years ago and have been meaning to read for years but never quite got around to it but now with my book blog Reading Matters I have the push I needed.

When Temple begins the main character, Paulie Bindel, is living in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his girlfriend Leslie.  He has dropped out of graduate school and works nights at a bookstore for very little pay.  He hates his job but the one thing Paulie does love is music.  Going to a popular nightclub in Cambridge, The Charity Ward, for Paulie is akin to a religious experience. But when he discovers his beautiful girlfriend Leslie has been cheating on him there doesn't seem to be a reason to stay in Cambridge and so Paulie heads back to Brooklyn where he grew up.

Can you go home again and find answers regarding how you should live your life?  That's one of the questions Temple asks, home not being just a geographical location but returning to your family, your neighborhood and your faith.  Since Paulie is still young he is lucky.  His parents, Marty and Esther Bindel are alive and in good health.  Paulie though is somewhat dismissive of his parents.  He has come back primarily to reconnect with his grandfather who he loves and who he is hoping will provide him with answers.

The novel is about Paulie's journey and he narrates some chapters.  We also learn about other characters in the novel whose life revolves around Temple Ahavath Mizrach and the Brooklyn neighborhood.  Paulie's grandfather a deeply religious Orthodox Jewish man and a Holocaust survivor.  Paulie's father Morty who has worked hard to support his family and pay for Paulie's education.  Paulie's mother Estner who stayed up nights with Paulie when he was a kid treating his asmtha.  Rabbi Simeon Harkveldt spiritual leader of the Temple who worries how his congregation feels about him.   The guys at the Post Office where Morty gets his son a job who spend their time drinking and fighting.  The ladies at Toni's Beauty Salon where Esther gets her hair done and catches up on the gossip with her friends. 

And actually it's the supporting characters in Temple that most interested me.  Robert Greenfield does a masterful job telling us about their lives, hopes, fears.  And as I learned more about them I found my attitude changing towards Paulie.  He is bright or as his father says "too bright.  That's always been his problem".  And though Paulie is funny in a self-deprecating way, he's also judgemental about himself and others.  Maybe if he could learn to cut himself some slack he could go easier on those around him.

Temple published in 1983 describes a different world than today but the lessons iin this novel about finding your place are timeless.