Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Book Review: Coolidge by Amity Shlaes

PBS’s American Experience tv program, quite a few months ago, examined the life and presidency of  President James Garfield.  Garfield was assassinated in July of 1881 by a deranged individual, 200 days after being elected President.  A friend had watched the program and said that Garfield did seem to have been an impressive person and what a shame his presidency was stopped so quickly.  My friend wished a person of Garfield’s integrity would have been in the running for the office of  President in 2016.

President Calvin Coolidge

Fast-forward to today, and I was having a discussion with my  child, whom I lovingly call my liberal- hippie.  The topic of unions and strikes came up and I mentioned that I had read over the weekend that FDR once tried to imply in a speech that President Calvin Coolidge was a fascist! My liberal hippy child then mentioned he had heard that Coolidge had thrown striking workers into jail?  I sighed and decided to give my hippie kid a history lesson. To his credit, he listened to my evidence.

In the Autumn of 2014, I read  author Amity Schlaes’s book, Coolidge.    The book had been published in February of that year and I  found it utterly fascinating; I tend to favor autobiographies, biographies if I know the were written by credible writers, and historical fiction.   What I had previously known about Coolidge wasn’t much:that he was born and raised in New England, he was married to  a lovely and accomplished  woman who had a career in deaf education, he was the father of two sons, and that he was known as a man of few words.  There is a funny anecdote about Coolidge being at a dinner party where a lady  tells him that she made a bet that she could get him to say more than two words, to which Coolidge replied, “You lose.”

John Calvin Coolidge Jr.  was  born and raised in Plymouth Notch, Vermont.  His father held a lot of different jobs, notably as a justice of the peace and he served in the Vermont House of Representatives.  Coolidge knew tragedy as a youth when his mother died when he was 12, and his only sibling whom he was close to, younger sister Abigail, died at age 15 when Coolidge was 18.  Coolidge’s father valued thrift and hard work and he instilled those traits in his son.  He encouraged his son to find part-time jobs, work at them well, save his earnings, and to invest them wisely.  Coolidge went to high school at Black River Academy in Ludlow, VT.  He went to college at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts.  Coolidge petitioned to join fraternities as a freshman but was rejected.  However, when he joined the college’s debate team and began to shine as a debater, he was able to finally join a fraternity his senior year.  After graduation, since affording law school was out of the question, Coolidge earned his law career  by apprenticing himself to a law firm in Northampton, MA. Why this method of earning a law degree has stopped, I don’t know.  With the increasing expense of college educations, I would think this idea ought to be revived.

In 1905, Coolidge met Grace Anna Goodhue.  She was a graduate of the University of Vermont and a teacher at the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton.  She and Coolidge were both attending the Congregationalist Church and met through various events that the younger members of the church liked to attend.  Coolidge proposed in the early summer of 1905, Grace accepted, and despite a mother-in-law who didn’t like him(she often said he was elected President due only to her daughter) the couple married that October.  Two sons were born to the marriage, John in 1906 and Calvin  in 1908. Tragically, Calvin died during his father’s presidency.  He had been playing tennis at the White House, in stocking feet, and developed a blister that became badly infected.  It was 1924 and antibiotics hadn’t been discovered yet. Young Calvin died of blood poisoning, and it’s one of the saddest accounts in Schlaes’s book.

Coolidge followed the advice of the lawyers he had clerked for while earning his law degree: get involved in local politics.  He began by  serving as a city councilman for Northampton, Mass., then serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.  After that term was done, instead of running again for that seat, and with a young family at home, he opted to run for Mayor and won.  As  Northampton’s mayor, he showed the economic skills that I believe we need in the White House in 2016: Coolidge was able to raise teacher’s salaries, lower city taxes a bit, and paid off some ofthe city’s debts.  Coolidge then ran for the Massachusetts Senate and won.  He ran for a second State Senate term and won again.  Coolidge then served two terms as Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor, and then Coolidge served two terms as Governor.  During his first term in that office, the Boston Police went on strike and instead of caving in to their demands, Coolidge enlisted the National Guard to take over the city’s police duties, and he himself oversaw the running of the police department.  American Federation of Labor leader Samuel Gompers sent Coolidge a private message stating that he disagreed with the Governor’s actions “… the right of the policemen has been denied“.  Coolidge made his reply to Gompers public and famously wrote:”Your assertion that the Commissioner was wrong cannot justify the wrong of leaving the city unguarded.  That furnished the opportunity; the criminal element furnished the action.  There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime…”  That public reply went across the nation and many Americans agreed with Coolidge’s points and a favorable view of him grew nationally.

1920 and Coolidge was selected to be Presidential candidate Warren G. Harding’s Vice Presidential running mate.  They easily defeated their Democratic opponents.  Coolidge didn’t have a lot to do as Vice President but Harding did ask that Coolidge attend all cabinet meetings, the first President to ever ask his Vice President to do so. On August 2, 1923, President Harding died of a heart attack while on a Western US speaking tour.  Coolidge was visiting his father in Vermont, staying in the family home that had no electricity or telephone.  Coolidge was sworn in by his father, who was a notary public.  This was in the wee hours of the morning, so after he was sworn in, President Coolidge went back to bed!  The next day he went back to Washington for a more formal swearing in conducted by a Supreme Court Justice.

What did I appreciate about Coolidge’s Presidency?  I appreciated his efforts to cut the government budgets each year and to pay off all of the debt the country incurred from World War I.Here is a link to all that he did that was wise for the US Economy while he was President.  The head housekeeper who had served with the Hardings despaired at the White House budget cuts and she resigned! I admired that the advice and lessons in which Coolidge’s father imparted to him didn’t leave him when he reached adulthood. Coolidge wasn’t one to talk a lot, but when he did speak, it was succinct and well-thought out. It wasn’t blurted out as unthinking verbal hits. 1923-29, the years of Coolidge’s presidency, the US saw economic growth combined with an administration that practiced economic frugality.  The American public thought so well of Coolidge that many wanted him to run for another 4 year term(this was before the Supreme Court had passed the 22nd Amendment that limited a President to serving for 8 years.) Coolidge felt it was time for him to bow out and he did so with grace. There were only two negatives that I could recall that marred an otherwise exemplary time in office. One was an anti-immigrant attitude that Congress and American public were fostering, that led to the Johnson-Reed Act, which severely limited the amount of immigants that could enter the US. Coolidge was hesitant to sign it as it would especially harm the numbers of Asian immigrants and the US had been developing a good relationship with the nation of Japan.  However, Congress and labor groups kept demanding that the Act be signed so Coolidge did give in and sign it in May of 1924. I wonder if the signing of this Act started into motion the hard feelings Japan developed towards the US which ultimately led to the attack at Pearl Harbor in 1941? The other negative event was a personal one.  The Coolidge’s were vacationing for the summer of 1927 in South Dakota. The First Lady and her Secret Service agent went off on a hike and were gone several hours, which worried Coolidge greatly. When the First Lady and her agent returned, Coolidge’s ire had grown and he demanded the agent be re-assigned. That left the press stationed in South Dakota in order to cover the first family’s vacation to wonder about the First Lady and her agent. The First Lady turned the tables on her husband and wrote a letter stating how professional her agent was in conducting his work and that she didn’t want him re-assigned.  To her credit, the First Lady remained friends with this agent and his wife the rest of her life.

I recommend this book as a great read.  It’s interesting not only for an in depth look at Coolidge but also at America in the 1920s before the Great Depression hit. The book  makes me wish we could have a person in Coolidge’s mold to run for presidency in the future;  a president who does the job well, who speaks few words  sounds wonderful right now!



Book Review : Discussing Mere Christianity

2017 rolled around and prior to it’s arrival, our church listed on its Facebook page the new Adult Sunday School topics/classes coming in the new year. My  husband and I had attended Sunday School classes at our church, when we first arrived in Rolla in 2011, but had slacked off from attending such classes over the past two years.  We still are regular attendees at the church services, but we had allowed going to  Sunday School  classes to fall by the wayside.  So when I saw that one of the classes being offered was a study of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, I told my husband about it and we both went to the class this morning.

Specifically, the book we are using in class, Discussing Mere Christianityby Devin Brown and Eric Metaxes, has a dvd that accompanies it.  Today’s dvd gave fascinating background about London of 1941 which is when C.S. Lewis, an English professor at Oxford, received a request to broadcast on the BBC radio and give 15 minute discourses on christianity, once a week.  Lewis’s discourses on christianity were so popular with the listening audience in England, especially during a dark time historically with World War II raging, London being mercilessly bombed, that these broadcasts were typed up and became Lewis’s book, Mere Christianity.  I had not known that information at all prior to today’s class.

C.S. Lewis was born in 1898, in Ireland.  His parents were avid readers, and he and his younger brother Warren were taken regularly to a Protestant church.  Lewis and his brother didn’t enjoy the church services and found them very dull; the rote of the weekly services intended to show how different this church was in comparison to Roman Catholic masses.  In 1908, Lewis’s mother died, which understandably upset her sons’ world as well as their father’s.  Within a month of their mother’s death, both boys were packed off to a boarding school.  After attending a couple more boarding schools, Lewis decided God didn’t exist and became an atheist.  When he was eventually hired to teach at Oxford University, he befriended J.R.R. Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, and T. D. Weldon, all professing christians.  Through many discussions with Lewis, and debates, Lewis’s atheism gave way to theism(the belief that there is a god) to a conversion that happened in two parts: one from an all night walk and talk with Tolkien and Dyson, and then a trip to a zoo with his brother, who interestingly was also about to abandon his grasp of atheism for christianity.  In between these two events, Lewis decided to actually read the 4 gospels found in the New Testament and was struck with how they sounded more like actual reports than made up stories.

The appeal of Lewis’s radio broadcasts for the BBC was that he didn’t want to embroil the listeners in doctrinal issues that existed then and still do, among the various christian churches.  He wanted to appeal to the listeners with logic and plain speaking in order for them to realize that christianity is real, that God is real.  He sent his notes for the broadcasts to area ministers and priests for their opinions to make sure what he was going to say would meet all of their approvals at getting to the heart of christianity.

As I stated, my husband and I have only begun this study of looking at Lewis’s book, but we found the topic interesting and very relevant for today’s christians to read and ponder as they grow in their faith.

If one wants to read more about C.S. Lewis and his writings, which The Chronicles of Narnia being his most famous body of work, go to this link.  With this first post for 2017, I do wish all of my readers a blessed 2017.


Beyond the Cover: Books to Film Blogathon: Kings Row

I live in Rolla, Missouri, which is in the south-central part of the state.  1 and 1/2 hours northeast of Rolla is the city of Fulton, Missouri.   Fulton has two  claims to fame, as fame goes.  It’s the place where Winston Churchill, on March 5th, 1946, made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College.  Fulton’s second claim is that in 1940, former hometown boy, Henry Bellamann, published a novel titled Kings Row, which readers in Fulton soon figured out was based upon their town.   The novel angered the community because despite Bellamann’s disclaimer that Kings Row was a fictional place, and all of the characters were fictional, Fulton readers could depict their town from Bellamann’s descriptions, and also the citizens he described.  Bellamann’s novel was about a midwestern town, near the turn of the century, where outsiders perceive it as an idyllic place to live and raise one’s family, but in reality, the town contains evil people, hiding their evil secrets, and where the wealthy families mistreat the poorer ones.

Kings Row sign

After the anger lessened on Fulton’s part, Hollywood announced that Warner Brothers studio had bought the  film rights to Kings Row and in 1942 the movie reached America’s box offices.  Despite the lurid tale, Kings Row was a smash hit, and some film buffs say it contains the best role President Ronald Reagan ever played when he was an actor.  The film was also nominated in 1943 for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography, Black and White. Let’s dive into the film’s plot, shall we?    kings-row-ann-sheridan-ronald-reagan-everett

The film concerns itself mostly with a group of children, ages 10-11, who are occupied with most things 10 and 11 year olds would be occupied with: having fun, playing with their friends, school, and trying to please their parents and/or guardians(two of the boys are being raised by relatives, since both are orphans.)  There is Parris(Robert Cummings), Drake(Ronald Reagan), Cassandra(Betty Field), Randy(Ann Sheridan), and Louise(Nancy Coleman.)  We only see the children for half an hour into the film, and then it jumps ahead to their young adult years, when they’re in their late teens.  When we meet the children we learn that Parris is polite. sensitive, and curious.  Drake is a jokester and thinks he’s a lady’s man.  Randy is a tomboy.  Louise is obedient to authority.  Cassandra is weird and moody.  The change to late teen years brings about the fact that all five are good looking people with varying degrees of wondering what to do with their lives.

Cassandra and Parris

Cassandra and Parris

Randy and Drake

Randy and Drake

Parris has been raised by a wealthy grandmother(Maria Ouspenskaya) who immigrated from the Lorraine area of France.  Her husband began a successful nursery business outside of Kings Row, and she, Madame Von Eln, carried on with the business after she was widowed.  Owing to her ancestry, she has made sure Parris can speak and read and write in French and German, and she’s also raised him with excellent manners.  She has also insisted on his taking piano lessons.  When Parris is a teen, he begins to grow infatuated with Dr. Tower’s (Claude Rains) daughter, Cassandra.  Cassandra is pretty, and seems to be able to only open up and really talk when she’s with Parris.  However, her father is very strict with her and always keeps her at home, even pulling her out of school and homeschooling her when she turns 12.  Due to his actions, Cassandra really has no friends in Kings Row, other than Parris.   Cassandra’s mother(Eden Gray) is considered very odd by the townsfolk, as she never leaves the house, and can be seen in the living room sitting in a chair, or peeking out at passerby’s from curtained windows.  Parris cares deeply for Cassandra, even declaring he loves her.  He and Cassandra begin to secretly see one another under Dr. Tower’s nose; Parris had gone away to Europe for medical school, and came back to Kings Row, to study psychiatry with Dr. Tower’s help.

Mysterious Dr. Tower

Mysterious Dr. Tower

Drake, always the merry prankster looking for love, raised by an aged aunt and uncle, is very wealthy when they pass away and leave him the full of their estate.  Drake wants to marry Louise, but her father, Dr. Gordon(Charles Coburn) a severe man, doesn’t like Drake, thinks Drake is immoral, and tells Louise she can’t marry him.  Louise is too weak to stand up to her father, so Drake breaks off his engagement to Louise and after a while, begins to date Randy, the girl descended from Irish immigrant railroad workers, who lives on the wrong side of the tracks, literally.

Drake telling Dr. Gordon what he really thinks of him.

Drake telling Dr. Gordon what he really thinks of him.

Randy is very likeable, and very pretty.  She is full of common sense, has a good sense of humor, and is a hard worker; Drake couldn’t do better to date  and woo her.  Tragedy hits Drake twice: he finds out an unscrupulous banker has swindled him of his inheritance, and having to work for a living and getting a job in the rail yard, he is accidentally crushed by a boxcar.  SPOILER!!!   When Dr. Gordon, Louise’s father, is called in to treat Drake, he decides to punish Drake for all of his past moral failings and needlessly amputates Drake’s legs!  It is as Drake awakes from his surgery, feels for his legs, and realizes they’re gone, that Reagan’s most famous line was uttered, “Where’s the rest of me??!!”  (Reagan felt he owed so much to Kings Row and that line that he used it as the title to his autobiography.)

Where's the rest of me??!!

Where’s the rest of me??!!

Robert Cummings is winning as Parris, the fresh-faced naive boy turned the same, even as a young adult; naive until he discovers what Dr. Tower did to his wife and to his daughter.  The naivete is gone and  Parris decides to study psychiatry, which at the turn of the century, was a new medical field.

Ronald Reagan is great as Drake.  One can tell by watching Reagan that he was enjoying the fun of the character and that he was probably having the time of his life playing Drake.  A lot of credit has been given to director Sam Wood, for working with Reagan on his part, but once again, Reagan was also from a midwestern state, Illinois, and a small town, so I am sure he could see some of the same points of distinction or similarities the screenplay was bringing out about life in a small midwestern town.

Ann Sheridan is superb as Randy.  Her efforts to display Randy’s character come shining through.

Betty Field is eerie as Cassandra.  She goes about with her eyes wide-open, as though she is expecting a ghost around every corner.  One can feel that Cassandra is living under a large amount of stress, but one doesn’t know why.  It will be revealed later in the plot of the film.

The adults in the film are some of the greatest character actors and actresses to ever grace a film: Claude Rains as the strange Dr. Tower, Charles Coburn as the stern Dr. Gordon, Dame Judith Anderson as Mrs. Gordon, Harry Davenport as Colonel Skeffington, Maria Ouspenskaya as Parris’s grandmother, and, I must confess an unknown to me actress, Eden Gray portrays the reclusive Mrs. Tower.

I don’t want to reveal too many more spoilers for Kings Row, but I will say that after all the evil deeds are exposed and the topic of mental illness is discussed,  there is a happy ending, or at least a hopeful ending!!  Turner Classic Movies will be airing Kings Row next week on Tuesday, April 12, at 8:00 est/7:00 cst.   The film is also available to view on Amazon’s instant rent and there are various clips on Youtube, but not the entire film.

I decided to read Kings Row prior to writing this blog, and went to Rolla’s library 3 weeks ago to get the book.  Alas, it wasn’t available so I ordered it through their interlibrary loan program, and 2 weeks later, Kings Row arrived for me, coming in from Sedalia, Missouri’s library.   I have read 1/3 of  the book and it is a good read.  Bellamann wrote a very descriptive picture to give the reader a mental image of Fulton, er Kings Row.  There are a lot of characters and good character development in the book, but as is so often when a book is turned into a film, many of the characters in the book were cut from the film’s screenplay.  Some of the  taboo topics in the book didn’t make the screenplay either due to the Hays Code: premarital sex, homosexuality, and incest.  The topics of mental illness, sadistic malpractice, murder, and suicide were acceptable for the screenplay.

Many have speculated as to why Henry Bellamann would have written such a negative novel about his hometown.  There are several theories, but at last, Fulton seems to have accepted it’s place in literary and film history.  Here’s a link to an interesting piece I read about the book and the film from a 1987 article in the  LA Times.

My post today is for the Beyond the Cover: Books to Film Blogathon, hosted by two excellent bloggers who know their classic movies: Ruth at Now Voyaging and Kristina at Speakeasy.  Be sure to visit their blogs to read about other bloggers contributions in the world of literary art being turned into visual art via film.

Beyond the Cover

Book Review: In the Field of Grace

I love to read books and when I was a kid, I could easily read a book and finish it in a week’s time.  In 1991, when motherhood came calling, my time to be able to read a book greatly diminished and even though I still love to read, it takes me a lot, lot longer to finish a book.  My favorite type of books to read are books based on historic events or people, and books that blend historical facts with fictional characters.

I was perusing the shelves at the Rolla Public Library in February and came across In the Field of Grace, a  historical fiction novel based upon the wonderful bible story about Ruth.   I have said for years, to anyone who might be listening, that the story of Ruth would make a wonderful movie, if done correctly and not taken out of character, or taken far from the truths the story imparts.  Hollywood? If you’re interested, this book should be the basis for a screenplay!!!

Field of Grace book cover

Tessa Afshar, the author, has taken the story of Ruth and added so much richness to the story.  The reader is allowed to ponder many what ifs that ring true to the biblical story.  Such as, perhaps Ruth was not loved by her biological family and that caused her to easily fall in love not only with her first husband but his mother as well, who treated her as a beloved daughter, who treated her with great kindness.  That would help explain why Ruth would be so willing to travel to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, when both were now widows, to be willing to live in a new town and new country despite that country having such different customs and worldviews than her native Moab. (Which is actually modern day Jordan.)

Afshar has done her research well: we delve into customs, foods, how homes were set up and cared for, the daily chores and seasonal tasks one had to do in bibilical times. We also get some great behind the scenes looks at Boaz’s life pre-Ruth.  Boaz is the strong, heroic man of the story.  He is fleshed out wonderfully with emotions and a strong faith in God, and all of these attributes help in giving his character a deeper sense in who he might have been; more than just the man who saves Ruth and Naomi from starvation.

I highly recommend this book, In the Field of Grace.  I had a hard time putting it down!  It really is a well-written, well-researched, and one can tell, lovingly crafted story.  For more information about the author, Tessa Afshar, here is a link to her online information page.

Curious George’s Author and Star Gazer

In my husband’s family lore, his older brother wrote a letter to H.A. Rey, the author and illustrator of the Curious George picture books for children.  I don’t know if the letter was an elementary class assignment or if the letter was an inspired, solo effort, but the letter was written in order to thank Mr. Rey because his Curious George books helped little brother(my husband) learn to read.  Mr. Rey was so touched, that he wrote back a reply.  I need to find out if my dear mother-in-law has saved this letter!

When it came time to select picture books for my husband and I’s first baby,  it was a no-brainer to make sure we had Curious George books in our home.  If you aren’t familiar with the Curious George books, H.A. Rey and his wife, Margret, wrote and illustrated 7 books in all, following the adventures of a cute, curious little monkey trying to understand life in a big city, with the guidance of his owner and friend, the Man in the Yellow Hat.

Curious George book

During the years that I homeschooled our kids, every year I’d get a fantastic, very large catalog: Rainbow Resource.  The IL company still exists and it offered, and still does, lots of  homeschooling curriculum to purchase at reasonable prices.  The catalog also includes honest critiques of each curriculum, too.  Educational games, children’s books, and a lot of teaching aids,  fill the catalog.

One homeschooling year as I was going through the catalog, I came to the Children’s Books section.   All of the children’s books that H.A. Rey and  his wife Margret had written and illustrated were on sale.  To my surprise, H.A. Rey had written two picture books for children, explaining the constellations and how to locate them in the night skies.  One book in particular, peaked my interest and I ordered it to use that year in our homeschooling journey.

Find the Constellations is a a charming book and it explains very well to children, and adults, how and why the constellations got their names, where they are in the night time skies, and why they change with the seasons of the year.  The drawings are cute stick figure types of children, and the constellations are also drawn with night time sky charts also depicting the constellations and how to recognize them.

Rey did take a few liberties with his drawings of the constellations, for example his drawing of Gemini, or The Twins, shows the twins holding hands, when more traditional drawings don’t depict this.  As a mom of twins, I like Rey’s depiction better!  Over the years, Rey’s constellation drawings grew in popularity and are now in quite a few Astronomy Guides.

For a fun way to teach children about the constellations, their histories, and also lessons about the seasons of the year and how the constellations tie in with them, get yourself to the library and find H.A. Rey’s Find the Constellations and The Stars: A New Way to See Them.

Book Review: The Weed Agency

The EPA messed up royally late last week when a crew they hired to dig in a closed gold mine in Colorado accidentally opened up a barrier that was holding back contaminated water.   That water flowed into the Animas River, polluting a needed water source for the city of Durango and for area ranchers and farmers,  and into neighboring New Mexico; it is now even a bigger threat I learned tonight, as it may also contaminate a river that flows from the Animas into Utah.

Reading about this horrible accident, the EPA’s response at a Duragno Town Hall meeting,  and also how some wag has suggested that the EPA’s name be changed to the Environmental Pollution Agency, has all refreshened in my mind the book I read earlier this summer, Jim Geraghty’s book, The Weed Agency: A Comic Tale of Federal Bureaucracy Without Limits.

The Weed Agency

Geraghty is a newsman by trade.  He is a contributing editor at National Review, is an online blogger and columnist for National Review online, is the author for their email newsletter, The Morning Jolt and for their Campaign Spot blog, and he also appears, from time to time, as a roundtable pundit for Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.   If you doubt his news reporting abilities, than take a look at his resume, found via Linked In.

In Geraghty’s book, there are two protagonists, if you will, who are really antagonists of each other.  There is the career bureaucrat, Jack Wilkins, who’s sole reason for his career is to keep his federal government agency from ever being shut down and to keep their budget rising no matter who the President is or what political party is in power.  The other protagonist is Nicholas Bader, a Reagan Whitehouse Budget hawk turned congressman from Pennsylvania who has an obsession with cutting the Weed Agency out of the government forever.

Each of these two main characters has his “minions”, so to speak, characters who work for them and believe in their boss’s cause.  There is also an elderly “statesman” congressman, who brings a lot of pork back to his home state.  When reading about this character, various elder statesmen came to my mind, as his character is an amalgamation of that type of politician.  The politician who brings  a lot of money back to his state, has many buildings and highways named after him, and who can wield a lot of helpful power to any bureaucrat who needs his help.

I found the book to be a fast read, to be a funny read, and in infuriating read.  Infuriating because it gives an unabashed look at one federal government agency, it’s monstrous growth through a 31 year period, and it show’s no signs of stopping, nor does it show that this agency has done a lot for American taxpayers.  How many of the other agencies in the US federal government fit this description??  Too many, is my humble opinion.

The Weed Agency is an actual agency: it’s part of the USDA, and it’s actual name is The Agency of Invasive Species.  It began during President Carter’s administration, due to his background of peanut farming and a fear of invasive weeds being brought in to the US that could decimate crops.

Geraghty’s use of actual facts from various administrations(Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama)and from various Congressional activities,  help illustrate how a bureacracy can control its outcome in a positive way, despite threats of a shutdown or a budget cut from  politicians.  I found his descriptions of Al Gore and Newt Gingrich particularly funny, as both men and their staffs hold hearings with The Weed Agency, when their Presidents (Clinton and Bush) have authorized wasteful government agencies be trimmed or shut down.  The masterful way that the agency director, Jack Wilkins, and his aides, completely get Gore and Gingrich off track and supporting the continuation of  The Weed Agency is hilarious!  Flattery will get you anywhere, should be one of the morals of this book.

There is a side bit about one of The Weed Agency’s employees, a computer whiz, getting tired of working for the government and her career move into Silicon Valley illustrates the stablity that exists in  a government job vs the instability when  working for a new venture.  There is also a final showdown between The Weed Agency’s director and retired Congressman Bader, the latter finding a way to shut down the construction of the new, fabulous, and ultra expensive building that  will house The Weed Agency.

For a funny look, and yes, at times, infuriating look, at the federal government, at how politicians try to enter Washington DC with good intentions but how bureaucracy often stops them in their tracks, get a copy of The Weed Agency.  I highly recommend it!

My Reading Corner : Undaunted Courage

Before I dive into the main point of my post today, I just want to say wow!  I was alerted by WordPress yesterday that my blog was booming with visitors, the graph line was zooming upwards and as of today, I now have 104 followers of my blog!  That statistic just boggles my mind-I feel akin to The Little Engine that Could-so thank you to all of my followers for reading my posts.  I will refrain from quoting actress, Sally Field, who’s honesty on accepting an Academy Award led to a wince-inducing reaction.  Now, on to may main post for today.

I am a book worm.  I love to read.  As a kid, I loved to ride my bike across town to the public library, one of many libraries built via donations from that ancient philanthropic rich guy, Andrew Carnegie.  I would take my time, peruse the books in the Children’s section, and take my selections home and pore over them.  I can recall my frustrated younger brother, begging me to stop reading and play with him outside!

Defiance, OH's public library that I would visit a lot!

Defiance, OH’s public library that I would visit a lot!

When I hit my teens, I began to put the kid lit behind me and aimed for the Classics.  I did discover that through all of my years of reading, I loved history books the best.  Whether they were books written by Augusta Stevenson that I devoured from the public library or books written by adult historians, I always prefer to read such books over mysteries, or romance writings.  Becoming a mom in 1991, I discovered that my reading had to be put on hold.  I would still read, but it now took me quite a while to finish a book.  Now that my kids range in ages from 12-23, I am starting to speed up my reading, just a bit, but hopefully in another year I ‘ll be back at my former fast-reading ways.

With my love of books, I decided that for some of my blog posts,  I will  focus on good reads, books that I’ve enjoyed reading; my own Reader’s Corner Review type of blog post.  I will still plan on my Friday/Weekend posts to be about a classic movie, but  my Tues./ Wed. mid week posts may be about a book.

My first review is the late  Stephen Ambrose’s  Undaunted Courage, the saga of Lewis and Clark’s amazing exploration and journey of the land purchased by President Thomas Jefferson in the Louisiana Purchase.  Living in Missouri as I do, Lewis and Clark are still pretty important men to the state’s history and as I read about their endeavor and outcome, it amazed me at how well the journey progressed.   It amazed me as to  how they were able to avoid the potential pitfalls and dangerous outcomes due to their God-given talents and wisdom, in leading about a group composed of young soldiers, fur trappers, Lewis’s slave, and one Native American woman, who was expecting a baby!

Undaunted Courage-cover art for the book

Undaunted Courage-cover art for the book

Ambrose goes into great detail about Meriweather Lewis’s life, his family’s background in Virginia, Lewis’s boyhood, military career, and his work as a secretary for the new President, Thomas Jefferson.  After Jefferson had made the purchase of that great swath of land, he wanted Lewis to lead a team to explore it and find an all water route from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean.  Jefferson was convinced that the two rivers were somehow connected.  He also wanted Lewis to make allies of all the Native American tribes that they would meet.  Jefferson had a “kooky” plan for the tribes in my opinion; he wanted Lewis to evaluate the idea of placing all the Native American tribes west of the Mississippi River, and have them live all together in a specific area, learning how to farm, read, write, and to assimilate into American ways of life, yet making them stay on the west side of the Mississippi.

The book also introduces us to Lewis’s co-leader, William Clark and how they had known each other, respected each other, and were friends due to past military service together.  4 sargeants, 23 privates, 6 civilian adults, eventually 1 baby, and Lewis’s Newfoundland dog, Seaman, made up the expedition.  Only one man died along the way west, and now historians think he died from appendicitis.  Amazing that during that entire journey, which was begun in St. Louis in May of 1804 and ended with their return to St. Louis in September of 1806, that only the one soldier had died.  Many Americans at the time had given all of the expedition up for dead and there was even a rumor that Lewis and Clark had been captured by the Spanish, who still controlled a lot of California at the time, and that they had been forced to work in a silver mine somewhere in the Southwestern territories!

Lewis was also called upon by Jefferson to take copious notes about plants, animals, insects, birds, fish, reptiles, and to make nightly measurements using the stars as to their latitude and longitude when ending each day’s travels.  To get Lewis ready for his scientific notes and drawings, he was sent to Philadelphia months before the expedition began to be trained by leading scientists of the day.  Lewis was also in charge of gathering all of the supplies, trinkets for the Native Americans, and he also learned medical treatments and gathered the medicines available at that time for any future illnesses that would occur.  Map of Lewis and Clark Expedition

After the success of the expedition, we learn of Clark’s courtship and marriage to Miss Julia Hancock and the birth of their first child, a boy.  We learn how the US Congress complained loudly about the expedition, the costs associated with it, how it was Jefferson’s folly to have it done.  We also sadly learn of the decline and demise of Meriweather Lewis.  Ambrose looks at the theories that exist as to why Lewis would commit suicide: his family’s genetic leanings to depression and mental instablility-was he a manic/depressive?  There was the young lady he was in love with and tried to court but she didn’t care for him at all and married another man.  There was the pressure to get the journals that he and Clark kept of the expedition published and Lewis procrastinated to have them published.  Why?

Undaunted Courage, something the two leaders and all of the members of this great journey had in spades.  Lately, when I am feeling a bit daunted by a task, I just ask myself, “Is what you have to face as difficult as what Lewis and Clark had to face?”  The answer to my rhetorical question is usually “No!” and off I march to face my task and get it done.

Lewis and Clark

Kate Remembered for the Katharine Hepburn Blogathon

Last year, blogger and classic film fan Margaret Perry decided to host a Katharine Hepburn Blogathon around the late actress’s birthday, which was May 12th, 1907. The blogathon was such a success that here is the second one and I am participating but not with a Hepburn movie review. I decided to take a different tack, and write a book review of a book I read 9 years ago, A.Scott Berg’s excellent, Kate Remembered. Be sure to visit Margaret’s site to read all of the other outstanding contributions to this blogathon!    KH bLOGATHON

Writer A. Scott Berg, a native and inhabitant of LA, in the early 1980s,,  was busily working on a biography of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn when Esquire magazine contacted Berg about contributing a piece for their upcoming 50th anniversary issue.  Berg immediately agreed if he could write about a Hollywood icon, Katharine Hepburn.  He had to go round and round with the editors and assistant editors because they insisted they didn’t want any articles about Hollywood;important Americans was their topic, and Berg countered that Hepburn was the lone actress still at work, in her seventies, who had done it all and done it well:stage and film and 4-time Academy Award winner.  Reluctantly, Esquire relented and Berg began his task of contacting Ms. Hepburn in order to interview her.     book KR

Fortunately for Berg, when he was a college student at Princeton, he had written his senior thesis on editor Maxwell Perkins.  After graduating, Berg decided to expand his thesis into a biography of Perkins, and the finished book, Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius, won a National Book Award.  During his research on Perkins, he found out that Perkins and his family lived next door to none other than star actress Katharine Hepburn!  Berg had always been a fan of Hepburn’s, and having written to the actress for any info she may have had about Maxwell Perkins, being that she was his neighbor for years, she did write Berg back, showed interest in his book about her former neighbor, so it was a natural plan to approach Ms. Hepburn again about letting Berg interview her for the Esquire article.

What began as several meetings at the actress’s brownstone home in the Turtle Bay area of Manhattan, and at the family’s seaside home in the borrough of  Fenwick, part of  Old Saybrook, CT. grew into a friendship of 15 years, right up to the passing away of Hepburn.

The book explores Katharine’s  early life in Hartford, CT.  Her father, Thomas, was a doctor and her mother, Katharine, or Kit, was a busy homemaker with 6 kids to raise, but she also found time to devote to causes: Suffragist Movement and Family Planning.  Katharine was the second child in the family, she had one older brother, Tom, two younger brothers, Richard and Robert, and then two little sisters, Marion and Margaret.  From Berg’s writings, I learned that these younger siblings were all in their teens and preteen years when their big sister was becoming famous due to her movie career.  Sadly, her older brother, Tom, committed suicide at the age of 15 and Katharine was the one who found his body.   Katharine loved her older brother very much and his death was a shock.  Due to her parents extreme views on political issues, they didn’t have many friends in Hartford, and this attitude also spread to the way peers treated the Hepburn children.  Sadly, her brother’s death added to the alienation, so the Hepburn family turned towards one another, were each other’s booster club, and Katharine shared she was so grateful that she had such a supportive family and she really believed that that love and support helped her reach her acting successes.  Katharine finished up her high school years homeschooling, with a tutor, and then it was on to Bryn Mawr for college, her mother’s college alma mater.

After graduation it was on to the stage and eventually, on to Hollywood.  Katharine’s first film, A Bill of Divorcement, was a star vehicle for John Barrymore.  Katharine was cast to play his daugher in the film, George Cukor directed; he became a lifelong friend of Hepburn’s.  A funny anecdote about Katharine and that first film, she was taking the Super Chief train from Chicago to LA and on her first night on that train, she went out onto a back platform to see the stars and something flew into her eye.  Immediate pain, redness, and swelling in that eye made the rest of the trip miserable.   As soon as the studio personnel met her at the train station in LA, she urged them to find her a doctor for her eye.  First, the studio folks told her, she had to be whisked off to the studio to meet Cukor, costumers, make up , and John Barrymore.   When she was introduced to John Barrymore, he assumed her red eye was due to too much alchohol and he offered her some eye drops that he often took for that very reason.  Hepburn tried to explain that she hadn’t been drunk and that something blew into her eye while on the train trip, but the Great Profile didn’t believe her!

Katharine Hepburn and John Barrymore in A Bill of Divorce

Katharine Hepburn and John Barrymore in A Bill of Divorcement

The book looks at a lot of her films; early successes, especially Morning Glory and Little Women, and then  how she was box office poison until The Philadelphia Story.  I love the slapstick, screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby and had no idea it had bombed at the box office in 1938!   There is also, of course, the section of the book that covers her long relationship with actor Spencer Tracy.  Hepburn shared with Berg that with Tracy it was “the first time I truly learned that it was more important to love than to be loved.”  Hepburn and Tracy were together for 26 years, 1941-1967.  MGlory

Little Women cast: Joan Bennett, Jean Parker, Katharine Hepburn, and Francis Dee

Little Women cast: Joan Bennett, Jean Parker, Katharine Hepburn, and Francis Dee

Hepburn with her 3 leading men in The Philadelphia Story: Cary Grant, James Stewart, and John Howard.

Hepburn with her 3 leading men in The Philadelphia Story: Cary Grant, James Stewart, and John Howard.

Hepburn with Cary Grant and "Baby"

Hepburn with Cary Grant and “Baby”

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

As the book nears its end, Hepburn is sadly nearing her mortal end, too.  I liked the book for it’s actual discussions with the great actress, her insights, her looking back at  her life.  I found it quite a touching book to read.   Two more anecdotes that I found charming and wise: Author Berg had been trying for months to get an interview with Irving Berlin for a book on Samuel Goldwyn. Berlin kept refusing, so Berg turned to Katharine, who had said she’d try to get Berlin to agree to an interview.  One day Hepburn walked out of her brownstone and went just a few buildings over to Berlin’s brownstone.  As she was explaining to Berlin’s maid who she was and that she wanted to visit him, she heard 100 year old Irving Berlin call out of a second floor window,”Kate, is that you?”  To which she replied that yes, it was she.  Berlin invited  her in  for a wonderful afternoon of tea and talk.  Later that same day, Katherine told Berg that she got in to see Berlin and that they had a wonderful 3 hour chat, but she couldn’t remember anything that they talked about!!   Wise words: Katharine sharing with Berg her thoughts about stage acting:”Nothing is as generous as an American audience…I’m always amazed at movie stars, especially those actresses who hit their 40s and 50s and complain that Hollywood isn’t writing any parts for them anymore, don’t take to the stage.  If Broadway is too scary, there are hundreds of wonderful theaters all over this country who would be thrilled to have them.  Actors should act.”

If you enjoy books about famous actors or actresses, written with their input, then seek out Kate Remembered-I highly recommend it!

Two Wonderful Reads for the Family this Summer

My oldest first cousin on my mom’s side of the family, John Seither,  has a very talented wife.  Marci Seither, besides being a great wife and mom to 6 kids-3 who are grown and 3 still at home-has found for herself quite a niche as a writer.  She began writing feature articles, op/ed pieces, and human-interest articles and as her writing career expanded, she entered the realm of book writing.  In 2013 and this  year, she has written and published 2 books!

The first book, The Adventures of Pearley Monroe, was the book that was inspired on a homeschooling field trip with her kids.  Marci is a native Californian and stories about the early pioneer families who came to live in California have always fascinated her.  Several years ago while on a field trip with some of her children to Sutter’s Mill,  they saw many buildings and one in particular caught Marci’s eye: a simple, white, clapboard building.  She asked about it and was told that it belonged to the Monroe family.  Peter and Nancy Monroe had been brought to California in 1849, slaves from Missouri.  They had been forced to leave their son, Andrew, behind in Missouri.  In 1850, California entered the Union as a free state and that released the Monroes from slavery.  Nancy then spent 21 years trying to reunite with their son, Andrew, and it finally did happen.  Marci was moved by the Monroe family’s story and told one of the docents at Sutter’s Mill that this family’s story needed to be told.  The docent agreed and told Marci that since no living descendents existed for the Monroe family that getting their story down would be a wonderful thing to happen.  Marci informed the docent that she only wrote feature articles for magazines and newspapers but he told her that if she was serious about writing down the Monroe’s story in a book, he could give her all of the information he had collected and saved for many years and get her access to the archive library for research purposes.  With the docent’s plea and challenge, this book was born.

Pearly Monroe is a 12 year old boy growing up in Coloma, California in the 1880s, growing up in Gold Rush country.  There are many adventures along his path and they add to his learning that in life, hard choices need to be made and wisdom needs to be sought after.

Recently, Marci got the neat opportunity to visit teacher Michael La Marr’s 4th grade class at Del Paso Manor Elementary School in Sacramento.  The class had read Marci’s book and loved it, so their teacher made a plan for Marci to do a surprise author visit with his students and it was captured on local television station KCRA-3.

This is a fun read, aimed at children ages 9-12 but it would also make a great family read aloud book, and it would also be a great supplement to a homeschool unit study on California or the Gold Rush, or both!

Marci’s second book, my husband and I had a bit part to play in it.  Empty Nest: Strategies To Help Your Kids Take Flight.  With lots of humor, godly wisdom, and common sense advice, Marci writes about her experiences in releasing 3 of her children to the world, ready to live their own lives as adults.   There are 13 chapters in the book, dealing with children leaving for college, for the military(that’s the chapter my husband and I gave part of our voices to), helping the siblings stay connected to the one who has left, parenting solo and saying good-bye, what if the child comes back, coping as a couple with no more children to raise, and many more important topics to read about.  There is also a reflection section at the end of each chapter, in order to think and ponder on the chapter and good ideas are also listed at each chapter’s end, to help one cope with this new stage in the family dynamic.

For Summer 2014, when life slows down a bit, take some time to look for these books and grab your nearest hammock, shady spot, glass of lemonade in hand, and read!