Archive for April, 2016

The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks – Donald Harington

This book has confirmed Donald Harington as one of my favorite authors and I am looking forward to reading the rest of his books. This is the third I have read, and gratefully there are twelve more. (Note: the version I read is the one included in The Nearly Complete Works of Donald Harington – Volume 1 – a Kindle book.)

Anyone who picks up this book thinking that it really is a book about the buildings of the Arkansas Ozarks is in for a disappointment. Yes, each chapter begins with an illustration and a brief discussion of a particular form of Ozark architecture, but it really only serves as metaphor for the story that develops around the buildings and the people who use them. In truth, it is more a history of the Arkansas Ozarks, as defined largely by the author’s fictional town of Stay More.

While the history is pretty true to the times, it is not a history based on hard facts. You are not going to go to the history books and find the names of the people in the book, nor find the location on a map, but you feel that this could be the case. I was reminded a bit of the book Centennial by James Michener. It has the same feel of getting to know the generations of people living through the sweep of history of the place.

As you read Harington’s books you start to feel like an insider, almost as an honorary member of the Stay More community. Or at least that’s how I feel, but then again, it does feel a bit like “home” to me, like a place I would like to live. Not to say that it is always pleasant in Stay More, but where is it? Reading along, you suddenly find yourself meeting people you already know from others of Harington’s books. It makes you feel like a part of the story yourself.

Indeed, at the end of this book it takes an interesting turn. There are places in the book where it serves you well to just accept odd things for what they are worth, rather than critically analyze them, and at the end I thought this was one of those places. This is a little bit of a spoiler, so, SPOILER ALERT! Still reading? That’s okay; it’s not much of a spoiler. Suddenly, at the end of the book, one character becomes aware of us, the author and the reader, or at least that’s my interpretation. It’s a perspicacious event. Suddenly you realize that you are part of the story. That this history would have no meaning without the reader, without the person who cares about the history.

In truth, we ourselves exist in history only as long as people remember us. There are those who have been immortalized in writing, and those people have been, and probably will be, long remembered. For most of us, though, it will be a couple of generations at best and then we are forgotten. To be interested in the history of someone and someplace, though, is almost a creative thing; bringing to life again that which is long gone. That’s the feeling I got at the end of this book.

I checked out the reviews of the book on Amazon and was surprised to find that out of ninety reviews (at the time of this writing), only forty-eight percent gave it five stars and that eleven percent gave it only one star. Some of the one-star reviews make me giggle when they said that they were upset because the book is not about the actual architecture of the Ozarks. I guess literary technique escapes them. Judging from the reviews, though, I guess that Harington, or at least this book, is not for everyone. Luckily, it is for me, and if you enjoy being involved in the everyday lives of mostly everyday people, you will enjoy it, too.

Finished 4/27/16

bookmark: you & me: a novel

You & Me: A Novel – Padgett Powell

This is an odd book and I would hazard to guess that most people would not care for it. I, however, found it entertaining. It’s a great bathroom book, because all of the “chapters” are very short, usually only a few paragraphs, and there is no consistent plot to keep track of so picking it up even weeks between chapters doesn’t destroy continuity.

I would be hard pressed to call it a novel, though it claims to be one. It is essentially a free association dialog between two old guys, presumably friends, just sitting around watching time go by. Occasionally there are pithy thoughts, often there are sparks of humor (or at least appealing to my sense of humor), and just as often it will seem like complete nonsense. It’s the kind of thing where you don’t have any great emotional investment in the content, so you can enjoy what you enjoy and disregard the rest.

I did not pay full price for this book in its Kindle version. If I had, I don’t think I would have felt that I got full value for my money. I suggest previewing the book if possible before investing your money or time into it, and check out the reviews. I enjoyed it, but you easily may not.

Finished 4/26/16

bookmark: i’m a stranger here myself

I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away – Bill Bryson

This book is a compilation of columns that Bill Bryson wrote for London’s Night & Day magazine, being his take on various aspects of life in the United States after his return from living in England for twenty years. Written in the late 1990’s, it is a bit dated, but most of his observations are still relevant. It’s an easy and quick book to read, entertaining, and for the most part, humorous in spirit. A liberal political leaning comes through in a few pieces, but hey, politics are fair game for poking fun at. I don’t think I would go out of my way to recommend it, but neither would I dissuade you from reading it. Now there’s a ringing endorsement if I’ve ever written one.

Finished 4/25/16

bookmark: breakfast with buddha

Breakfast with Buddha – Roland Merullo

I am a hard-nosed realist who believes that no “spiritual plane” exists. No afterlife, no reincarnation, no heaven, no hell – those are myths, stories and legends. I believe that there is a firm reality that conforms to the laws of physics. Throw quantum uncertainty at me and I will still insist that there are laws that govern that; that we merely do not yet have the understanding or technology to provide the explanation for it.

So, why then do I read books like this? It’s the story of a man traveling from New Jersey to North Dakota in the unexpected company of a “holy man,” a Tibetan monk kind of guy. Along the way our main character learns from this spiritual teacher and experiences a shift in his way of perceiving things. It’s not a “come to Jesus” kind of event, rather it’s a gradual exposure to, and acceptance of, the more spiritual side of life.

Unlike some of my contemporaries, I do not have a (completely) closed mind about there being a spiritual side to our existence. I consider it part of the scientific mindset; you have a theory about something and accept that as true until something comes along that either disproves the theory or more easily explains the facts. The problem is, of course, that I require hard evidence for my beliefs and that’s mighty hard to accomplish with spiritual things. But because I like to keep a somewhat open mind, I like to read things that may reveal any small proof of such spiritual things.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be on your deathbed and believe that you are going to heaven, or that you are going to be reborn into another (hopefully better) life? Such comfort in that idea. Much better than “when you’re dead, you’re dead.” Be that as it may be, I have yet to find any proof of a next life or a spirit that lives on.

Still, a book like this can help you see teachings that, while possibly improving your next life, can have a positive effect in this life. I have no qualms about meditation, for example. While I may not meditate according to what some may consider “the rules,” I do have my moments of meditation. And treating others with love? Sounds like a good way to go to me, unless they are pointing a gun at me, at which point all bets are off.

I’ve rambled a bit, so back to the book. It’s a “road trip” book, and I like those because they bring me along. The reactions of our main character to his spiritual teacher companion on the trip are totally in line with what I might expect. While I wasn’t convinced by anything in the book that there is going to be a next life for me, I found the story entertaining and worth reading, and some of the principles worth accepting. The author didn’t indulge in proselytizing, which would have immediately turned me off. In fact, the only thing that made me roll my eyes was at the very, very end of the book, but at that point, it didn’t matter.

Finished 4/5/16