Heretic/Hanging (Books Acquired, Sometime Last Week)

20130806-162835.jpg

I was out of town when these showed up last week.

First, Susan Ronald’s Heretic Queen: Publisher St. Martin’s Griffin’s blurb:

Acclaimed biographer Susan Ronald delivers a stunning account of Elizabeth I that focuses on her role in the Wars on Religion—the battle between Protestantism and Catholicisim that tore apart Europe in the 16th Century

Elizabeth’s 1558 coronation procession was met with an extravagant outpouring of love. Only twenty-five years old, the young queen saw herself as their Protestant savior, aiming to provide the nation with new hope, prosperity, and independence from the foreign influence that had plagued her sister Mary’s reign. Given the scars of the Reformation, Elizabeth would need all of the powers of diplomacy and tact she could summon.

Extravagant, witty, and hot-tempered, Elizabeth was the ultimate tyrant. Yet at the outset, in religious matters, she was unfathomably tolerant for her day. “There is only one Christ, Jesus, one faith,” Elizabeth once proclaimed. “All else is a dispute over trifles.” Heretic Queen is the highly personal, untold story of how Queen Elizabeth I secured the future of England as a world power. Susan Ronald paints the queen as a complex character whose apparent indecision was really a political tool that she wielded with great aplomb.

And: The Hanging of Samuel Ash by Sheldon Russell, from Minotaur. Publishers Weekly blurb:

A compelling lead compensates only in part for the relatively weak plot of Russell’s fourth mystery featuring one-armed Santa Fe railroad bull Hook Runyon (after 2012’s Dead Man’s Tunnel), set during WWII against a backdrop of labor unrest. When Runyon checks out a nonworking signal on a remote stretch of track, he discovers a man’s corpse hanging from the signal’s cantilever. The only clue to the dead man’s identity is a Bronze Star inscribed with the name Samuel Ash. Not wanting the war hero to be buried in a pauper’s grave, Runyon takes custody of the body and embarks on a quest to find Ash’s relatives and the truth about his death. A dose of humor lightens the gloom—pickpockets steal Runyon’s wallet and badge while he’s hunting pickpockets—but the mystery itself never picks up much steam. Fans will hope for a return to form next time.

 

Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate (Book Acquired, 6.14.2013)

20130617-133539.jpg

Big thanks to Mr. BLCKDGRD for sending me this copy of Vasily Grossman’s enormous novel Life and Fate. Over the past few years I’ve come to admire and trust BLCKDGRD’s taste, and I generally love these types of novels, so I’m looking forward to getting into this later in the year.

Here’s publisher NYRB’s blurb:

A book judged so dangerous in the Soviet Union that not only the manuscript but the ribbons on which it had been typed were confiscated by the state, Life and Fate is an epic tale of World War II and a profound reckoning with the dark forces that dominated the twentieth century. Interweaving a transfixing account of the battle of Stalingrad with the story of a single middle-class family, the Shaposhnikovs, scattered by fortune from Germany to Siberia, Vasily Grossman fashions an immense, intricately detailed tapestry depicting a time of almost unimaginable horror and even stranger hope. Life and Fate juxtaposes bedrooms and snipers’ nests, scientific laboratories and the Gulag, taking us deep into the hearts and minds of characters ranging from a boy on his way to the gas chambers to Hitler and Stalin themselves. This novel of unsparing realism and visionary moral intensity is one of the supreme achievements of modern Russian literature.

Read our review of Grossman’s novel The Road.

 

“Decoration Day” — Sarah Orne Jewett

“Decoration Day” by Sarah Orne Jewett

I.

A week before the thirtieth of May, three friends—John Stover and Henry Merrill and Asa Brown—happened to meet on Saturday evening at Barton’s store at the Plains. They were ready to enjoy this idle hour after a busy week. After long easterly rains, the sun had at last come out bright and clear, and all the Barlow farmers had been planting. There was even a good deal of ploughing left to be done, the season was so backward.

The three middle-aged men were old friends. They had been school-fellows, and when they were hardly out of their boyhood the war came on, and they enlisted in the same company, on the same day, and happened to march away elbow to elbow. Then came the great experience of a great war, and the years that followed their return from the South had come to each almost alike. These men might have been members of the same rustic household, they knew each other’s history so well.

They were sitting on a low wooden bench at the left of the store door as you went in. People were coming and going on their Saturday night errands,—the post-office was in Barton’s store,—but the friends talked on eagerly, without being interrupted, except by an occasional nod of recognition. They appeared to take no notice at all of the neighbors whom they saw oftenest. It was a most beautiful evening; the two great elms were almost half in leaf over the blacksmith’s shop which stood across the wide road. Farther along were two small old-fashioned houses and the old white church, with its pretty belfry of four arched sides and a tiny dome at the top. The large cockerel on the vane was pointing a little south of west, and there was still light enough to make it shine bravely against the deep blue eastern sky. On the western side of the road, near the store, were the parsonage and the storekeeper’s modern house, which had a French roof and some attempt at decoration, which the long-established Barlow people called gingerbread-work, and regarded with mingled pride and disdain. These buildings made the tiny village called Barlow Plains. They stood in the middle of a long narrow strip of level ground. They were islanded by green fields and pastures. There were hills beyond; the mountains themselves seemed very near. Scattered about on the hill slopes were farmhouses, which stood so far apart, with their clusters of out-buildings, that each looked lonely, and the pine woods above seemed to besiege them all. It was lighter on the uplands than it was in the valley, where the three men sat on their bench, with their backs to the store and the western sky.

“Well, here we be ‘most into June, an’ I ‘ain’t got a bush-bean above ground,” lamented Henry Merrill.

“Your land’s always late, ain’t it? But you always catch up with the rest on us,” Asa Brown consoled him. “I’ve often observed that your land, though early planted, was late to sprout. I view it there’s a good week’s difference betwixt me an’ Stover an’ your folks, but come first o’ July we all even up.”

“‘Tis just so,” said John Stover, taking his pipe out of his mouth, as if he had a good deal more to say, and then replacing it, as if he had changed his mind.

“Made it extry hard having that long wet spell. Can’t none on us take no day off this season,” said Asa Brown; but nobody thought it worth his while to respond to such evident truth.

“Next Saturday’ll be the thirtieth o’ May—that’s Decoration Day, ain’t it?—come round again. Lord! how the years slip by after you git to be forty-five an’ along there!” said Asa again. “I s’pose some o’ our folks’ll go over to Alton to see the procession, same’s usual. I’ve got to git one o’ them small flags to stick on our Joel’s grave, an’ Mis’ Dexter always counts on havin’ some for Harrison’s lot. I calculate to get ‘em somehow. I must make time to ride over, but I don’t know where the time’s comin’ from out o’ next week. I wish the women folks would tend to them things. There’s the spot where Eb Munson an’ John Tighe lays in the poor-farm lot, an’ I did mean certain to buy flags for ‘em last year an’ year before, but I went an’ forgot it. I’d like to have folks that rode by notice ‘em for once, if they was town paupers. Eb Munson was as darin’ a man as ever stepped out to tuck o’ drum.” Continue reading

Watch Death for Five Voices, Werner Herzog’s Film About the Bizarre Life of Carlo Gesualdo

Eleven Authors Who Were Also Veterans of War

Eleven Authors Who Were Also Veterans of War

1. Stendahl (Napoleonic Wars)

2. Ambrose Bierce (Union Army, American Civil War)

3. Erich Maria Remarque (German Army, WWI)

4. George Orwell (Republican Army, Spanish Civil War)

5. Kurt Vonnegut (U.S. Army, WWII)

6. Joseph Heller (U.S. Air Force, WWII)

7. Eveyln Waugh (British Royal Marines, WWII)

8. Norman Mailer (U.S Army, WWII)

9. Gore Vidal (U.S. Army, WWII)

10. Tim O’Brien (U.S. Army, Vietnam War)

11. Anthony Swofford (U.S. Marine Corps, Persian Gulf War)

 

RIP Roy Bates, Prince of Sealand

RIP Paddy Roy Bates, Prince Roy of the Principality of Sealand, who died this week at 91.

From Sealand’s official website:

Sealand was founded as a sovereign Principality in 1967 in international waters, six miles off the eastern shores of Britain. The history of Sealand is a story of a struggle for liberty. Sealand was founded on the principle that any group of people dissatisfied with the oppressive laws and restrictions of existing nation states may declare independence in any place not claimed to be under the jurisdiction of another sovereign entity. The location chosen was Roughs Tower, an island fortress created in World War II by Britain and subsequently abandoned to the jurisdiction of the High Seas.

The independence of Sealand was upheld in a 1968 British court decision where the judge held that Roughs Tower stood in international waters and did not fall under the legal jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. This gave birth to Sealand’s national motto of E Mare Libertas, or “From the Sea, Freedom”.

The official language of Sealand is English and the Sealand Dollar has a fixed exchange rate of one U.S. dollar. Passports and stamps have been in circulation since 1969 and the latter decade of the 20th century saw an impressive expansion in its activity both socially and industrially as it began to develop a growing economic base which underscored its long-standing membership of the international community of States.

Some video history:

More, via Bates’s son:

Turing’s Cathedral — George Dyson Explores the Origins of the Digital Universe (Book Acquired, 2.17.2012)

20120225-111107.jpg

George Dyson’s Turing’s Cathedral looks pretty cool. Here’s some copy from publisher Pantheon:

“It is possible to invent a single machine which can be used to compute any computable sequence,” twenty-four-year-old Alan Turing announced in 1936. In Turing’s Cathedral, George Dyson focuses on a small group of men and women, led by John von Neumann at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, who built one of the first computers to realize Alan Turing’s vision of a Universal Machine. Their work would break the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things—and our universe would never be the same.

Using five kilobytes of memory (the amount allocated to displaying the cursor on a computer desktop of today), they achieved unprecedented success in both weather prediction and nuclear weapons design, while tackling, in their spare time, problems ranging from the evolution of viruses to the evolution of stars.

Dyson’s account, both historic and prophetic, sheds important new light on how the digital universe exploded in the aftermath of World War II. The proliferation of both codes and machines was paralleled by two historic developments: the decoding of self-replicating sequences in biology and the invention of the hydrogen bomb. It’s no coincidence that the most destructive and the most constructive of human inventions appeared at exactly the same time.

How did code take over the world? In retracing how Alan Turing’s one-dimensional model became John von Neumann’s two-dimensional implementation, Turing’s Cathedral offers a series of provocative suggestions as to where the digital universe, now fully three-dimensional, may be heading next.

I spent an hour with the book this morning and found it engrossing. (It was also a reminder that I don’t read enough nonfiction).

Regular readers will know I despise dust jackets—I’d rather see publisher’s put their efforts into handsome but simple hardback covers. Three out of the last four hardbacks to come in have done so, including Turing’s Cathedral:

20120225-111151.jpg

Still, the design concept for these books (Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists and Thomas Mallon’s Watergate are the other two) still involve an integration with the dust jacket. I’d like to see the dust jacket dusted, done away with, expired.

Some cool pics from the Dyson:

20120225-111159.jpg

20120225-111207.jpg