1920 by Eric Burns
This was an entertaining and informative chapter-a-day read for lunch, not bogged down in overanalysis, of the historical and cultural highpoints of the eponymous year. The author speaks authoritatively based on strong primary sources and admits where he speculates. I had one factual quibble with p. 69, referring to the rough blizzard of March 1920 and the effect of high winds: “Pedestrians in New York were blown off balance as they walked, even though the canyon walls of skyscrapers should have protected them.” I would suggest that this is not exceptional, as high winds from above are drawn down any building. The wind has to go somewhere and doesn’t only bounce back on itself. There is less volume of space for wind to blow at street level, and the result in a compressed, higher-velocity wind stream than the wind from above. This phenomenon was also observed in Brooklyn by my mother-in-law, Rose Dunne, who called the Williamsburg Bank corner at Flatbush and Fourth Avenues,” the windiest corner in Brooklyn.”
Doctor Who: The Classic Series
How to approach the desire to see all the episodes of Doctor Who, 1963–1989? Plan A: watch them backwards in time, Doctors Eight through One. Before the return of the Paul McGann Eighth Doctor’s 1996 single television adventure, rescreened for the 50th Anniversary celebrations on BBC America in 2013, I was able to find the one free copy of this DVD in New York City, at the Seward Park branch of the NYPL. I saw all of the Sylvester McCoy Seventh Doctor’s (1987–1989) adventures courtesy of the NYPL 42nd St. branch, often watching a few shows in one sitting. Their Dr. Who collection is extensive. Then I switched to Plan B: watch them in order. I started at the beginning (1963) with William Hartnell’s First Doctor. I can’t explain why, after I had dipped into his Doctor several times, I didn’t get it. But somehow something clicked by watching episode 1, “An Unearthly Child.” Maybe it was my own advancing years and to learn that he was my age when he played the part (although chronic health problems made him look 15 years older). I’m in the middle of the final series that featured the original two companions, Ian and Barbara, and I will miss them dearly. I now watch one episode per week, on Saturdays, and it will take the next 20 years or to see them all at that pace, allowing time off in the Fall to watch the new series. I’ll be 78. I’m only 50 years behind, in 1965.
The 87th Precinct Novels by Ed McBain
If you take advantage of it, the Kindle Lending Library is one of the world’s greatest bargains, as found in Amazon Prime. (Note: I know they treat employees roughly, according to a recent piece in the NYT.) Included in the package is one free book per month on the Kindle (you can also read on a PC). The selection of Kindle freebies does not align with my taste, but I have found some great Kindle Singles, including short fiction (Crooning by Frank D. Gilroy [he resurrects the great Dick Powell in a humorous tale of 1958 Cuba]) and on subjects as varied as WW II espionage (The Secret Agent by Stephen Talty) and comical memoirs (Cautionary Tales by Stephen Tobolowsky); and one great series: Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels. For 50 years McBain (a.k.a. Evan Hunter) wrote these this punchy, moody accounts of tough detectives, low-life crooks, and beautiful dolls; denizens of Isola (a NYC-like city turned sideways) inhabit a universe where series regulars can die but justice always prevails; he delineates fleshy characters that lift this series up from dime novel to gilt-edged classic. I can’t wait until the first of the month (you get one free book per month) to read Lady, Lady I Did It (1961). There’s a new series on TNT this month about ‘60s cops and I’ll be watching to see if there is any 87th influence. McBain said he was ripped off by NBC when they did Hill Street Blues, a fact he alludes to in the intro to the reissue of some of the novels. TV’s Barney Miller owes a debt to him too. I am tempted to order the TV series DVD of the 87th Precinct, which lasted only one season in 1961–62, starring Robert Lansing. It beats watching a 2015 doctor show with underwear models pretending to be brain surgeons.
Holman Christian Standard Bible by multiple authors
Skipped the Old Testament, working on the New Testament. Read a chapter a day (takes less than 10 minutes), stop, let it marinate. You can read the first four books in less than a year. I just started the fifth book, “Acts of the Apostles.” Try this reading plan and if it doesn’t improve your life in some way, at least you’ll improve your cultural literacy and maybe win at bar trivia. My father said to my old girlfriend (now my bride): forget those shrinks, there is something good for you on any page of the Bible. He was right. My favorite book is John. Halfway in he starts up with the events of the Passion, which the other books seem to squeeze in at the end. I especially enjoy the miracles, many of which have come true again today through science, which doesn’t make them any less miraculous. Gift of tongues = Google Translate. Curing paralysis = electrical stimulation of the spinal cord (in development). Curing the deaf = cochlear implant. It’s a roadmap to the possible for those afflicted, if not by illness then by apathy and depression. In John 9:3, referring to the blind man’s affliction and cure, Jesus says, “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” I’m praying for a miracle cure for tinnitus and floaters.
Go out there, help somebody, feel good about yourself! My father, who I only knew as an older Irishman in his 50s to 70s (that’s like 60s to 80s today) and never in great health, had an even older Irish friend, Barney Brady, and he’d go over and help him out. “Where’s Dad?” we’d ask. “He went to see Mr. Brady,” said my mother.
The Hornblower Novels by C.S . Forester
After I finished the 20-volume O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin series some 15 years ago, where to go? It’s like when your bar goes out of business. Do you go to the artisanal cheesemaker/gastropub that took its place, or do you find an even older bar? In reading the first Hornblower novel, Beat to Quarters, and finding the captain too dour, I then got into his psychological struggles with self-loathing, while admiring his bravery and calculating acumen in sailing and adventure planning. I’m now in the second book, Ship of the Line, and will no doubt keep far from leeward as I set topsails to the eleventh book across the horizon. I’m buying the print version to easily share with Mom. I made a decision to read the books in the order written, not in the chronological numbering order that the current publisher has chosen, in order to experience the works in the same order as the first readers. Belay that rope!
I have read five Ann Patchett novels and admire her work for its heart (without mawkishness): The Patron Saint of Liars, Taft, The Magician's Assistant, Bel Canto, and State of Wonder. She was crazy enough to open her own bookstore in Nashville after the big chains left town. As I understand it, the big chains lost money as chains, but there were certain cities where they made money (like Amtrak in the Northeast vs. the less-used Northern-Western lines). I’m still trying to figure out why you titled Taft as you did.
I read State of Wonder first, and then I believe, TMA, BC, TPSoL, and most recently, Taft. I hope her essay collection, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, stays true. Bravo Ann!